As you might expect, I love to browse bookstores. Theological bookstores, of course, are my favorite. But I also like to browse shopping-mall bookstores, looking for interesting biographies, illustrated coffee-table volumes on architecture and travel, and home-improvement manuals.

Recently, I was surprised to find in a shopping-mall outlet a tourist book entitled How to Get Things Cheap in Toronto. My surprise was because after living 20 years in Toronto, I couldn’t believe one could get anything “cheap” in this city.

I was even more surprised when I reached for the book and came away with nothing but the brightly illustrated dust jacket. Someone, it seems, being challenged by the title, decided that by stealing the book he could get something even more cheaply than the author had anticipated.

Rather perversely, the situation caused me to laugh. Evidently, I mused, nothing could be said on the subject of “How to Get Things Cheap in Toronto.” But when I shared my amusement with the salesclerk, she failed to appreciate the humor. And when I offered to buy the dust jacket, even though it enclosed no book, she rather stiffly said: “Take it; it’s no use to us now!”

That dust jacket now resides on one of my shelves as something of an allegory as to the nature of life. For though there are frequent offers in life to get something cheaply, quickly, or easily, life is just not like that. I suppose I will never know what the book itself said about how to get things “cheap” in our fair city. But I’m not too interested, for cheap advice usually proves to be costly.

The allegory for me is that of a razzle-dazzle dust jacket that promises what people are always looking for—but with absolutely nothing of substance enclosed. Sadly, life is too ...

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