Tag Archives: independent bookshops

Good Things #15

I decided to write “Good Things Mondays” back when Monday morning was spent with my writing and reading and catching-up. This year, my schedule has shifted, and Wednesday is now the day for creativity.

So, are things just as Good on Wednesdays as they are on Mondays?

I like to think so.

Thought-provoking. I have recently become re-addicted to TED Talks. I posted one last week on being a twenty-something, and this week’s favorite is on body language. We’ve heard this idea before – that information is conveyed through non-verbal cues – but Amy Cuddy asks if perhaps our body language can change our thinking. It left me thinking: How do I portray myself just by the way I stand? Do I adopt a posture of powerlessness? Or the other way around?

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Music. I can’t remember how I found this song. Probably Pandora. And for once I was smart and wrote down the name. It’s called “Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key”, and the version I like the best isn’t on Youtube. This one’s pretty good though, and when I heard his speaking voice, I was surprised he sang such folksy music.

Books. Right now I’m reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. I bought it from an independent used book store right before they were unceremoniously kicked out of their space of twenty-plus years by outrageously-raised rent (can you tell what I think about that?). It’s written as letters back and forth so that was an adjustment at first. It’s set post WWII, and I really like that time period these days. It’s also Shaffer’s first novel, and I like reading author’s firsts.

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Fall walks, bike rides, etc. Is there any other season that begs to be walked in? The leaves are changing here in New England, the air is crisp, and I revel in the particular way the sun looks in autumn.

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Fall foods. Crunchy apples. Warm cider. Pumpkins (uneaten on the steps). Cider doughnuts. Apple pie (as soon as I get to apple picking).

Woo-hoo! So, I submitted a poem to a competition a few months ago (okay, more like a lot of months ago), and while it didn’t win, it was one of 17 finalists. It’s called “Almost Family” and it comes out in the September issue of Ruminate. A step in the right direction. Now if only I could write more…and more… If you click on the link, you’ll see my name, fourth from the top in the poetry section as proof!

Words. Autumnal. Puerile. Euphoric.

Reading and Trains and the Beauty of Timing

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I bought another book I didn’t need today. It called to me from the stack at the used bookstore. I popped in (against my better judgement and against the wisdom of my wallet), thinking I could poke around and leave without buying anything. I should’ve known better.

It was a paperback copy of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

I reasoned for a moment: You’ve already read this. You do not need to buy this.

But I knew even as I held its soft covers in my hands that I would buy it. That I should have my own copy. You really shouldn’t keep recommending a book that you don’t own. At least, that’s what I told myself as I went up to the cash register.

When I think of this book, I see myself on the train. I’m holding a hardcopy from the library, and I’m reading as the brakes squeak and smash me against the side of the train (this happened only a few times, I’m sure, but in my mind it was a constant interruption). I consumed this book with a fervor that surprised me; I’d tried reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek the year before and I’m pretty sure that I will never get further than three pages into it.

There is something to be said for timing.

Dillard’s book spoke to me from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a little blonde girl discovered the world and her place in it. I was a barely-bigger blonde girl, interning at a large publishing house for the summer before heading back to college. I rode the train every day, and every day I thought Is this what will happen to me? as I watched middle-aged men and women silently board the train, silently ride the train, and silently get off. Was this what life had in store?

“I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

[a poem wrote itself hurriedly on the back of a receipt from lunch. it was about being little and memories and contradictions. it was born out of Annie Dillard and the receipt is still in a book somewhere.]

The train moving forward, the hardcover book in my hands, my feet propped up on the runner. My stomach growling because I hadn’t packed a big enough lunch (again!), and my mind wandering to my senior year of college and what the heck am I doing and what the heck am I gonna do? The city slowly slipping away behind me and Annie’s world opening up.

“In short, I always vowed, one way or another, not to change. Not me. I needed the fierceness of vowing because I could scarcely help but notice…that it was mighty unlikely.”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

There was too much of me in her and it scared me. How important is it to be unique? I started hoping it wasn’t too important, because my uniqueness was being written away.

Every day I went into the city and every day I worked in a little gray cubicle. The words began to blur on the screen, blur on the page, blur in my mind. I longed for my lunch hour when I could take my little peanut butter and jelly sandwich (yay for cheap meals!) and eat in the gardens and watch poor unsuspecting people and yell at audacious squirrels. I loved words. I loved learning about publishing. But not talking for eight hours a day WAS KILLING ME.

So I escaped to Annie.

“As a child I read hoping to learn everything, so I could be like my father. I hoped to combine my father’s grasp of information and reasoning with my mother’s will and vitality. But the books were leading me away. They would propel me right out of Pittsburgh altogether, so I could fashion a life among books somewhere else.” ― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

Annie Dillard was to my 21-year-old self what Joan Didion was to my 23-year-old self. It’s all about timing. Who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t love either of them if they’d switched places.

~     ~     ~

So I bought another book I didn’t need. I think I bought it for the memories as much as anything; they’re all wrapped up inside. The book’s sitting beside me without a line or mark in it. Who reads their own paperback without marking it up? I don’t understand it. I can’t wait to get my hands on a pen.

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Mr. Van Allsburg

When I nannyed, I used to read Polar Express to the boys, curled up on the couch. I would make homemade hot chocolate, and I remember showing them how to sprinkle cinnamon over the top before we settled in to read. The story was cute, but what I remember most were the illustrations – the rich colors, the shapes of the snow, the train through the countryside.

Today at the bookshop, we had Chris Van Allsburg himself. He signed copy after copy of Polar Express, but other titles, too: Jumanji, The Sweetest Fig, The Wreck of the Zephyr. People lined up out the door, down the sidewalk. It was a good day at the little bookshop! All of us were there – from the owners and the manager to every last part-time employee – all a-buzz. We even wore necklaces with gigantic colored bells that jingled when we moved. It was like we were Polar Express elves or something.

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[We couldn’t believe it when large white flakes began to fall against the gray sky. And when the train came through, it was like a fairytale.]

There was a moment when I was ringing in a customer and the ancient register was whirring away, that I thought Oh my gosh, what if this thing freaks out? What’ll we do?! I’m pretty sure the register is from the 1940s (or pretty close), and I could’ve sworn I saw smoke. I wasn’t the only one eyeing it with a little trepidation.

It held out, though, and at the end of three hours of asking customers if they needed a book, ringing them in, running their credit cards, etc., I was finally able to meet Mr. Van Allsburg. He was quiet, reserved-seeming (but he had been signing books for three hours). He wore an argyle sweater and he had a nice, white beard. He shook my hand and smiled, writing To Catherine – Chris Van Allsburg, 2012.

It’s nice to see how an author does a book-signing; there are kind, soft-spoken, interesting-and-interested writers out there. When I left for the night, I went back and thanked him, shook his hand again. I gathered my things, put my coat on, and stepped out into the lightly falling snow.

What a privilege.

 

Book Heaven

Saturday I got to go back to one of my favorite places. All through college, I worked at an independent bookshop in a small town near my school, and if it had been even close to financially possible, I would’ve rather worked there full-time after graduating than anywhere else. But, as all cynics will tell you, the book industry is going through hard times (is that euphemistic?), and I thought after graduating, I’d never be able to work there again.

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But two weeks ago, I went back to the shop-from-my-dreamworld to buy some books, and my boss was happy to see me. So happy, in fact, that she asked if I could come work some Saturdays before Christmas.

That was exactly what I wanted to happen.

IMG_0963Yesterday was my first day back. I walked in to the twinkling lights in the window, the books lining the shelves, my coworkers so sweet and kind. They asked me how I was, what life was like after graduation, what it was like teaching Latin to 100 students (okay, I rounded up – it’s only 99). I work with six women who share my love of books and it’s heavenly.


IMG_0964(Seriously, this place couldn’t get any quainter. The train from the city runs through, and the sound of it chugging up to the station on gray winter days makes me think I’m in Narnia or something.)
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I sold The Art of Fielding to a man for his wife’s birthday (“She loves baseball. This is perfect!”). I sold two beautiful picture books for a 3-year-old girl about adventure. And I sold four books – to myself.

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My latest discovery in my attempt to read as many different poetic styles as possible.

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And finally. After thinking we already owned a copy and not being willing to pay for another, I ordered my own copy. Let’s see if I fall in love.

(I haven’t decided yet if I am keeping the fourth book or giving it as a gift, so that will have to remain a secret.)

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And yes, I’ve met John Updike himself.