Renting a real house from a real person comes with a very different set of pleasures. For me, the biggest, guiltiest one is the opportunity to nose around and see if I can figure out something about the otherwise unidentified owners of the house.
Orlean is vacationing on Cape Cod. Bad weather has kept her inside, so she’s been exploring the home of someone she refers to as Dr. 6892, with special attention to his bookshelves. Dr. 6892 likes Leo Rosten, which leads Orlean to conclude he is Jewish: “[Did] Rosten ever sell a single book to a non-Jew?” The good doctor appears to be fond of a mix of the highbrow and visceral–“[The] majority of the books are high-toned and intellectual, they are leavened by the yeasty Steve Martini thrillers half-hidden under the night table.”
The thrillers make Orlean wonder if her imagined portrait of a “Jewish doctor who travels and buys the thrillers for diversion during flights” is too tame. The owner of the home may actually be “a very dangerous international spy who is pretending to be a Jewish doctor who travels occasionally and the code he is passing to the enemy is embedded in the Steve Martini books.”
If the last imagined line of work for Orlean’s mysterious Jewish doctor is closest to the truth, the author should probably be a bit more concerned about another odd detail:
[He] has the most peculiar array of tweezers I’ve ever seen, but maybe he’s into tying flies or something, or gets lots of splinters doing something weird with wood.
Anyone who has seen Laurence Olivier’s diabolical dentist in Marathon Man might tell Orlean that this last detail is more disturbing than she realizes. Let’s hope her mystery doctor/international spy is too busy assassinating a despot to notice her blogging about his book collection.