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But, far more significantly than nostalgia or cost, books gave me a means of escape. In real life I had no choice but to get used to the idea that, after a relationship that had lasted more than two years, the woman I loved did not love me back anymore, which meant my visions of tucking a young sons or daughters into bed, of reading them stories, of getting down on the living room floor and playing with them, might not become real after all. Happiness had seemed near for a while; then it wasn’t.

I was incredibly bitter over this turn of events.

Almost as bad, though, was my sense of disbelief. I thought I had done everything right. I had been faithful, never shown reluctance to apologize. I had always been keen to listen and to understand and be helpful. How could this have happened? How could it all have slipped away from me? Why were some men, who had grossly abused their spouses and partners, eventually welcomed back by those they’d hurt, while I was abandoned?

But enough of all that. You’re not here to listen to me whine.

Anyway, the point I want to make is that, in the difficult weeks that came after the end of my engagement, reading a book lifted me out of my own cramped, miserable world and dropped me into someone else’s. I helped Ray Bradbury solve a mystery in 1950s Venice, California, in Death is a Lonely Business. I accompanied Edgar Allan Poe into the dank wine vaults of a vengeful nobleman in The Cask of Amontillado. And to Agatha Christie I put the question: Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?

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