No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister
Some people mark summer by road trips and barbecues. Book lovers track the season by the pages we’ve read. Like Jenga pieces, we pull hardbacks from our teetering “to be read” piles, scan media for trending titles, and turn to library and bookstore staff for the next great book we’ve yet to discover.
What makes a great book? I think author Erica Bauermeister has it right. Quoting her friend Holly Smith, Bauermeister says: “A great book is one that you love.” This truth drives Bauermeister’s latest title, “No Two Persons,” a novel that celebrates the life of a particular book.
This quiet celebration of the power of story and the world of books may be the perfect coda for your late-summer reading.
Published in May, “No Two Persons” is Bauermeister’s fifth novel. Her popular backlist includes “The Scent Keeper,” which was a Reese’s Book Club pick. She also wrote a memoir, “House Lessons: Renovating a Life,” which chronicles her family’s decades-long journey renovating a historic home in Port Townsend where she now lives with her husband.
In her years of writing and reading, Bauermeister noted how readers can perceive and respond differently to the same story. She says “No Two Persons” is “inspired by all the readers and book clubs I’ve talked with, all the students I have taught. Each with their own opinions. Each with their own love of words.”
In “No Two Persons,” she honors opinions and books by following a fictitious debut novel, “Theo,” from its creation through publication and criticism and, finally, down its varied pathways to readers.
The book opens with the story of the writer, Alice Wein, and how “Theo” came to the page. In separate chapters, Bauermeister summons nine readers; the distinct personalities and range of occupations are a testament to Bauermeister’s instinct for story.
First up, we meet Lara the publishing assistant, who finds Alice’s book among a slush pile of manuscripts. Next, there’s Rowan, a former actor who has retreated to a remote island in British Columbia where he records audiobooks in his home studio. In subsequent chapters, “Theo” inspires an artist named Miranda and a free diver named Tyler, and it saves the lives of Nola, a homeless teenager; Kit, a bookseller seeking love; and William, a widower. The eighth reader, Juliet, is an intimacy coordinator for movies. The final character is Madeline, the agent who published the book.
Each of these nine readers reacts to Alice’s book in diverse ways, but all find the story they need because of who they are when they read it. Bauermeister quietly links the lives in each chapter. Beyond the obvious ties, careful readers may find additional references and associations the author has described as “love notes slipped between pages.”
As Bauermeister foretells, readers will have their opinions and connect in different ways — or not at all — with “No Two Persons.” I have a soft spot for the character of Madeline, who suggests it’s not the number of books we read that matter, but the beauty of the search and the power of the ideas we discover.
At least that’s the message I heard.
Bauermeister’s trademark empathy and hope are the heart of “No Two Persons.” On her website, she attests that she writes “about the things we don’t pay attention to — our sense of smell, the food we cook, the houses we live in, the way our filters affect our perceptions of the world. I write about those quiet spaces between words, and all that goes on in them. But most of all, I write about compassion — because that is what teaches us to see everything else.”
Readers have a special opportunity to think about those quiet spaces and books — and the end of summer — with Bauermeister and fellow author David B. Williams on Village Books’ Sept. 12–14 “Books A’Sail” book group at sea aboard the Schooner Zodiac. She’ll also join Williams at the Sept. 14 Chuckanut Radio Hour. Find more information about both events at villagebooks.com.
Reviewed by Mary Vermillion, community relations manager, Whatcom County Library System.
Originally published in Cascadia Daily News, Aug. 26, 2023