This week, Josh Rol­nick, the author of Pulp and Paper blogs for The Post­script on the pow­er of words on a page. The Post­script series is a spe­cial peek behind the scenes” of a book. It’s a juicy lit­tle extra some­thing to add to a book clubs dis­cus­sion and a read­er’s under­stand­ing of how the book came togeth­er. 

To host” Josh at your next book club meet­ing, request him through JBC Live Chat

The oth­er day, I was walk­ing home from work in Brook­lyn, N.Y., try­ing to cross 7th Avenue at rush hour, lis­ten­ing to the final audio­book chap­ter of Fran­cis­co Goldman’s Say Her Name.

I don’t rec­om­mend try­ing this at home.

Goldman’s book, offi­cial­ly a nov­el, is the true sto­ry of the author’s rela­tion­ship with Aura Estra­da, a young Ph.D. stu­dent he mar­ried at a point in his life when he had all but giv­en up try­ing to find love. It’s a beau­ti­ful sto­ry with a hor­ri­ble end­ing – Aura dies in a freak body­surf­ing acci­dent as the two are vaca­tion­ing togeth­er in Mexico.

The love Gold­man describes is hon­est, pas­sion­ate, and real; Aura’s death, all the more trag­ic for being so ran­dom and sense­less. (“Fue una ton­te­ria, Mami,” Aura tells her moth­er after the acci­dent, just hours before she dies. It was a stu­pid­i­ty, Mami.”) Gold­man won­ders: if she had sim­ply rid­den a dif­fer­ent wave, if he had been able to afford to stay at a dif­fer­ent beach – would her life still be intact? Would his?

At the time of her death, Aura was at the start of a promis­ing lit­er­ary career. And, as the book ends, Gold­man trav­els to Paris to vis­it La Ferte, a clin­ic Aura had planned to use as the mod­el for a hos­pi­tal in her nov­el. He climbs the stairs, won­der­ing what Aura’s char­ac­ters would have felt, then shifts sud­den­ly and speaks to her directly.

Do with La Ferte what you will, my love,” he writes. I know it will be great.”

I approached the 7th Avenue sub­way. Throngs of peo­ple welled up from the sta­tion, and my eyes filled with tears. I held my breath, try­ing to tamp down the emo­tion. Come on, Rol­nick, I told myself. They can see you.

I hit 30-sec­ond rewind so I could lis­ten again. Tears flowed freely. I rewound again. Do with La Ferte what you will, my love. There she was, plain as day. Aura. Alive, once again. By the time I reached my apart­ment, I was dodg­ing cars I could hard­ly see. 

Why was I cry­ing like that? Because I love peo­ple, too, and why does every­thing have to be so damn ten­u­ous in this world? Also, I think, they were tears of grat­i­tude – for a book, words on a page, that had snapped me out of my dai­ly rou­tine, had moved me, remind­ing me that this train we’re all rid­ing may be heart­break­ing and beyond our com­pre­hen­sion at times, but at least we’re all rid­ing it together.

Our sages tell us that Moses con­voked the whole Israelite com­mu­ni­ty” after the gold­en calf inci­dent, part­ly because he want­ed to restore the sense of uni­ty and shared pur­pose” among his peo­ple (Gen­e­sis 35:1). Is the call of sto­ries any less noble?

Writ­ers write, the author Richard Ford con­cludes in a 1988 Harper’s essay that I’ve returned to again and again, not … to appeal to a par­tic­u­lar read­er­ship, but to dis­cov­er and bring to pre­cious lan­guage the most impor­tant things they were capa­ble of, and to reveal this to oth­ers with the hope that it will com­mit an effect on them – please them, teach them, con­sole them. Reach them.”

Isn’t that why we read? I mean, sure, it’s nice to be enter­tained. Some­times, we want to be scared or thrilled or trans­port­ed. But doesn’t the real pay­off come when a book recon­nects us to that vital thing inside us that reminds us we are alive?

When Doree gets out of the bus to help a young boy hurt in a car wreck and real­izes she doesn’t have to go back to her abu­sive hus­band. When Jan Val­jean is reunit­ed with Cosette. When Dum­b­le­dore tells Har­ry at the end of a hard and weary­ing jour­ney that death real­ly is like going to bed after a very, very long day.” 

Alice Munro. Vic­tor Hugo. J.K. Rowl­ing. The authors who have moved you may be dif­fer­ent, but I have no doubt, if you’re read­ing this, you know what it means for a book to lift you up.

Writ­ing and read­ing decrease our sense of iso­la­tion,” Anne Lam­ott con­cludes in Bird by Bird. They deep­en and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writ­ers make us shake our heads with the exact­ness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about our­selves or life, our buoy­an­cy is restored. We are giv­en a shot at danc­ing with, or a least clap­ping along with, the absur­di­ty of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat dur­ing a ter­ri­ble storm at sea. You can’t stop the rag­ing storm, but singing can change the hearts and spir­its of the peo­ple who are togeth­er on that ship.”

A song every day, Rab­bi Aki­va said. A song every day.

If you’d like to spend an evening togeth­er belt­ing it out, I’d be hon­ored to join you.

Josh Rol­nick is a short sto­ry writer, author of the col­lec­tion Pulp and Paper, which won the John Sim­mons Short Fic­tion Award. He is a fac­ul­ty lec­tur­er at the Johns Hop­kins MA in Writ­ing Pro­gram, an instruc­tor at Sack­ett Street Writ­ers, and fic­tion edi­tor at Paper Brigade, the lit­er­ary annu­al of the Jew­ish Book Council.