Excerpts for My Bookstore : Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop


My Bookstore

Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2012 Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57912-910-1

Contents

Introduction.....................................................................................xi
Martha Ackmann  The Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA...........................................1
Isabel Allende  Book Passage, Corte Madera, CA...................................................7
Rick Atkinson  Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.......................................11
Wendell Berry  Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, KY............................................16
Jeanne Birdsall  Broadside Bookshop, Northampton, MA.............................................19
Rick Bragg  The Alabama Booksmith, Birmingham, AL................................................22
Charles Brandt  Chapter One Bookstore, Ketchum, ID...............................................28
Douglas Brinkley  BookPeople, Austin, TX.........................................................32
Liam Callanan  Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI...............................................36
Ron Carlson  Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ.................................................42
Kate Christensen  WORD, Brooklyn, NY.............................................................45
Carmela Ciuraru  The Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY...........................................48
Meg Waite Clayton  Books Inc., Palo Alto, CA.....................................................52
Jon Clinch  Northshire Bookstore, Manchester, VT.................................................58
Mick Cochrane  Talking Leaves Books, Buffalo, NY.................................................62
Ron Currie, Jr.  Longfellow Books, Portland, ME..................................................67
Angela Davis-Gardner  Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh, NC.....................................72
Ivan Doig  University Book Store, Seattle, WA....................................................78
Laurent Dubois  The Regulator Bookshop, Durham, NC...............................................82
Timothy Egan  The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA..........................................88
Dave Eggers  Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA................................................91
Louise Erdrich  Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Minneapolis, MN......................................95
Jonathan Evison  Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Island, WA....................................98
Kathleen Finneran  Left Bank Books, St Louis, MO.................................................101
Fannie Flagg  Page & Palette, Fairhope, AL.......................................................112
Ian Frazier  Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ.................................................116
Mindy Friddle  Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC.................................................120
David Fulmer  Eagle Eye Book Shop, Decatur, GA...................................................123
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA........................................127
Peter Geye  Micawber's, St. Paul, MN.............................................................131
Albert Goldbarth  Watermark Books and Café, Wichita, KS.....................................137
John Grisham  That Bookstore in Blytheville, Blytheville, AR.....................................141
Pete Hamill  Strand Book Store, New York, NY.....................................................144
Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown  The Booksmith, San Francisco, CA..................................148
Elin Hilderbrand  Nantucket Bookworks, Nantucket, MA.............................................152
Ann Hood  Island Books, Middletown, RI...........................................................156
Pico Iyer  Chaucer's Books, Santa Barbara, CA....................................................161
Ward Just  Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, Vineyard Haven, MA.........................................171
Lesley Kagen  Next Chapter Bookshop, Mequon, WI..................................................174
Stephanie Kallos  Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA........................................178
Larry Kane  Chester County Book & Music Company, West Chester, PA................................183
Laurie R. King  Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA..............................................189
Katrina Kittle  Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI..................................................194
Scott Lasser  Explore Booksellers, Aspen, CO.....................................................198
Ann Haywood Leal  Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT..................................................201
Caroline Leavitt  McNally Jackson Books, New York, NY............................................206
Mike Leonard  The Book Stall at Chestnut Court, Winnetka, IL.....................................209
Robert N. Macomber  The Muse Book Shop, DeLand, FL...............................................214
Jill McCorkle  Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC....................................................217
Mameve Medwed  Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA................................................221
Wendell and Florence Minor  The Hickory Stick Bookshop, Washington Depot, CT.....................226
Barry Moser  Lemuria, Jackson, MS................................................................231
Howard Frank Mosher  Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, VT...............................................237
Arthur Nersesian  St. Mark's Bookshop, New York, NY..............................................243
Kate Niles  Maria's Bookshop, Durango, CO........................................................247
Ann Packer  The Capitola Book Café, Capitola, CA............................................252
Chuck Palahniuk  Powell's City of Books, Portland, OR............................................255
Ann Patchett  McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI...........................................261
Edith Pearlman  Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA...............................................266
Jack Pendarvis  Square Books, Oxford, MS.........................................................269
Francine Prose  Strand Book Store, New York, NY..................................................274
Ron Rash  City Lights Bookstore, Sylva, NC.......................................................277
Tom Robbins  Village Books, Bellingham, WA.......................................................279
Adam Ross  Parnassus Books, Nashville, TN........................................................282
Carrie Ryan  Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC......................................................286
Lisa See  Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena CA........................................................290
Brian Selznick  Warwick's, La Jolla, CA..........................................................295
Mahbod Seraji  Kepler's Books, Menlo Park, CA....................................................299
Nancy Shaw  Nicola's Books, Ann Arbor, MI........................................................302
Jeff Smith  The Book Loft, Columbus, OH..........................................................305
Lee Smith  Purple Crow Books, Hillsborough, NC...................................................308
Les Standiford  Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL..................................................313
Nancy Thayer  Mitchell's Book Corner, Nantucket, MA..............................................319
Michael Tisserand  Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA................................................322
Luis Alberto Urrea  Anderson's Bookshops, Naperville, IL.........................................327
Abraham Verghese  Prairie Lights, Iowa City, IA..................................................332
Audrey Vernick  BookTowne, Manasquan, NJ.........................................................336
Matt Weiland  Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY.................................................340
Stephen White  Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO.............................................344
Joan Wickersham  The Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, NH........................................353
Terry Tempest Williams  The King's English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT..........................357
Simon Winchester  The Bookloft, Great Barrington, MA.............................................361
Afterword........................................................................................367
Bookstores by Location...........................................................................375


Chapter One

Martha Ackmann

The Odyssey Bookshop SOUTH HADLEY, MASSACHUSETTS

When I moved from Missouri to western Massachusetts in 1979, everyone I met had the same two recommendations: You have to try the carrot cake at Chanticleer's, and you have to open an account at the Odyssey Bookshop.

They were right. Chanticleer's carrot cake was delicious—just the right combination of sweet and spicy. I wish that unpretentious coffee shop was still around, but—like so many things—it dissolved into a procession of dull establishments whose names no one could remember.

But the Odyssey?

The Odyssey flourished.

Thank goodness.

The two-story white frame building is the heart and soul of South Hadley, Massachusetts, and a survivor to boot. Not only has the bookstore stood the test of time and marketplace, but it also persevered through two catastrophes that nearly killed it.

I came to western Massachusetts to study Emily Dickinson and attend graduate school in the region's lovely Pioneer Valley—home to Amherst, Smith, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke colleges and the University of Massachusetts. I bought books at the Odyssey for my literature classes and found myself spending Saturday afternoons in the shop's lower level, sitting on the floor next to shelves of Victorian novels. Back then the Odyssey arranged its books by publisher—an eccentric system, but not unlike bookstores in the United Kingdom. Many of the books I was reading were published by Penguin—all in inexpensive editions with distinctive orange spines. As a marketing device, Penguin color-coded its editions: green for mystery, blue for biography, red for drama, orange for fiction. I loved the Odyssey's oddball organizing scheme. It made me feel like an insider when I cracked the code and descended into the lower level in pursuit of all those orange spines.

But nothing made a book lover feel more like an Odyssey insider than getting to know Romeo Grenier. Romeo, as everyone called him, was the bookshop's owner—a formal-looking gentleman who spoke in low, precise tones and wore a cravat. The book-organizing scheme was his idea and perhaps a nod to all things British. Romeo was an Anglophile through and through: He took tea at four o'clock and thought Middlemarch was the best book ever written. Some store patrons even mistakenly thought Romeo was British; he seemed so proper and—well—starched. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

Romeo came from a family of lumberjacks in the backwoods of Quebec. In 1923, he immigrated to the United States, settled in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and found a job cleaning out the cellar of a local pharmacist. Working for Simon Flynn was a stroke of luck. Over the years, Romeo moved up—literally from the cellar. He helped out in the store, learned the pharmacy trade, and studied for his license. He also took a liking to the boss's daughter. Ten days after Pearl Harbor, Betty Flynn and Romeo Grenier eloped and eventually bought Glesmann's pharmacy in nearby South Hadley. Romeo and Betty sold toothbrushes and shampoo and added a small shelf of books at the front of the store. Romeo couldn't help himself with the books; he already had a personal habit of buying a book a week. As Glessie's book space expanded, more shelves were added, and soon the copies of Thackeray overtook emery boards and Old Spice. Although a pharmacy by name, Glesmann's became the town's literary gathering place. Students and faculty from across the street at Mount Holyoke College congregated at the pharmacy's round table and booths for lively discussions about art, politics, and literature. The College community became so fond of Glessie's that at reunion time, students swung by as if to visit their favorite nook in the library. Romeo Grenier, one professor observed, "resolved to be the most cultivated apothecary since John Keats."

In 1963, the inevitable came to pass. The cough syrup lost and books won. At the urging of Mount Holyoke, Romeo opened the Odyssey Bookshop, a few doors down from Glesmann's. Students and faculty helped pack the pharmacy's stock of books and carry them down the sidewalk to the new shop. For two decades, Romeo, Betty, and the shop's dedicated and knowledgeable staff ran the Odyssey Bookshop, making it not only a popular bookstore but a tourist destination as well. Vacationers who stopped in nearby Amherst during foliage season or parents who visited children at the local colleges came by the Odyssey for a chat with Romeo. Customers loved it when staffers hand-selected books for them and explained why they thought the choice was a good fit. For a region that claimed Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Richard Wilbur as locals, the Odyssey was the very embodiment of what residents valued: Literature was as important as breathing.

That's why it hurt so badly when the unthinkable happened.

In 1985, Joan Grenier, Romeo and Betty's daughter, was in the final months of finishing her degree in history at the University of Massachusetts. With graduate school in mind, Joan sat in an auditorium that December morning with hundreds of other students poring over entrance exams. She was so concentrated on her work that she jumped when an exam official called her name at the end of the testing session. There was an urgent message. A friend, who didn't want Joan to drive home alone past the store, waited at the door. The Odyssey was on fire.

For the next months, Joan worked alongside her 75 year-old father to reopen the bookshop near the spot of the original Glesmann's. The College pitched in too. The theater department offered their set-design talents to decorate the store. Students and faculty filled out stock cards for incoming books. Grateful customers found themselves using the phrase "phoenix rising" to praise the Odyssey's remarkable recovery. But five months later, just as the tulip trees were beginning to bud around campus, a second fire consumed the store and the shops around it. Romeo didn't think he could go through the ordeal of salvaging and reopening another bookstore. Joan stepped in. "I probably didn't know what I was getting into," she admitted. Graduate school went out the window, and over the next year, Joan, the shell-shocked Odyssey staff, and the Mount Holyoke community once again worked to reopen the shop, this time in the hall of the nearby South Hadley Congregational Church. Months later, when a new shopping complex rose from the ashes of the second fire, the Odyssey was the first business to open its doors in the Village Commons opposite the college.

Joan took advantage of the unenviable clean slate before her. She expanded the retail space to nearly 4,000 square feet, organized author readings, instituted a First Editions Club, a Shakespeare Club, and a children's book club. The Odyssey became the spot not only for new books, but also for used and bargain books, and for unique gifts for bibliophiles. When social media became a powerful force in business, the Odyssey created a full-service website for customers to order physical books and e-books. Now the largest independent bookstore in western Massachusetts, the Odyssey hosts over 120 literary and cultural events a year, from Rachel Maddow to Alexander McCall Smith and Stephen King to Rosalynn Carter.

Betty Grenier died in 1989, and Romeo, the "most cultivated apothecary," followed a decade later in 1997. Romeo's portrait hangs prominently on the Odyssey's wall, along with photographs of Glessie's and the store's two fires—a reminder of the indomitable shop's past.

As for me, I finally read all those orange-spined Penguin novels and got up off the Odyssey floor. Like my friend, Joan, my career took a turn that I wasn't quite expecting. After years of teaching at that college across the street, I turned to writing narrative nonfiction books. There's nothing I love more than spending time in archives or traveling to a town where I've never been and interviewing someone I've never met before. When my first book was published, The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight, Joan called me with ideas for the book launch. I'll never forget the night of my first reading. C-Span and my entire softball team showed up, a reader presented me with a baseball cap from Sally Ride's inaugural flight, and Joan introduced me, making friendly jokes about our mutual age and my peripatetic career from Emily Dickinson scholar to space chronicler.

Later that evening, after the wine and those wonderful pastries that always seem to show up at Odyssey events, Joan helped us load the car for the trip back home. It was nearly ten o'clock, practically everyone was long gone, and the Odyssey—still all lit up—looked like a beacon against the dark New England mountains. When I looked back at the store, I couldn't help thinking about Romeo's beloved books crowding out the Old Spice, and I couldn't help feeling grateful for how this wonderful shop has enriched my life. As Joan grabbed a box of party supplies and carried them to the curb, she yelled back at the lone shopper still browsing the new fiction shelves. "Could you watch the store for a minute?" she asked. As the former grad student who loved sitting among the Odyssey shelves, I relished the joy in the customer's reply. "I'd be happy to," she said. "I've been waiting my whole life to be surrounded by books."

Isabel Allende

Book Passage, CORTE MADERA, CALIFORNIA

I am old-fashioned. I believe that one should have a personal doctor, a dentist, a hairdresser, and, of course, a trusted bookstore. I wouldn't think of buying books at random, without my bookseller's recommendation, no matter how good the reviews may be. Fortunately, when I immigrated to the United States twenty-five years ago—because I fell in lust with a guy whom I eventually forced into marriage—I ended up living in Marin County, California. Almost immediately, I found the perfect bookstore. However, to find the proper doctor, dentist, and hairdresser took some time. Book Passage, an independent bookstore in Corte Madera, is only ten minutes away from my home, and it rapidly became my refuge and the extension of my office. The owners, Elaine and Bill Petrocelli, welcomed me with open arms; not because I was a writer, but because I was a neighbor.

Since l987 I've started the tours for each of my books at Book Passage, the favorite place for authors on tour because they get an enthusiastic audience and are treated like celebrities, even when they are not. I have had the opportunity to attend readings by great writers, politicians, scientists, stars, gurus, and many more whom I would never have met elsewhere. I have enjoyed fabulous meals at the Cooks with Books events organized by the store in classy restaurants. Due to the requirements of my job, I am a nomadic traveler. Before any journey I visit the store's great travel section, where I get maps and information, including, for example, where to buy beads in Morocco or where to get the best pasta in Florence.

Book Passage is much more than a store for me: It's the place where I meet friends, journalists, students, readers, and fellow writers; it's where I have my mailbox and an open account for me and my family to buy and to order all our books. As soon as my grandchildren learned to dial a phone they would call the store to order kids' books and then call again if they didn't get them the next day. For years, they were present every Sunday at story hour, and they were the first ones in line, wearing the appropriate outfits, for the fun midnight Harry Potter parties.

Willie Gordon, my husband (yes, the same guy I met a quarter of a century ago), retired as a lawyer and decided to become a writer. I couldn't believe that he intended to compete with me but he persisted. At Book Passage he attended the Annual Mystery Writers Conference and opted for crime novels as the most appropriate genre for him, not because he has a particularly mean streak, but because he knows a lot about law and forensics. He took writing classes and read the books suggested by the staff. To my dismay, Willie has written five novels in the last few years, translated into several languages. Nothing pleases Elaine Petrocelli so much as to see a student at her conferences return a couple of years later to teach as a published author. Willie is just one of many cases. Elaine is the first person to read Willie's manuscripts and review them. Bill helped Willie to publish in the States.

The buyer at Book Passage selects novels, audiobooks, and reader's copies for me. I don't even bother to choose my own reading material! She gave me The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese in manuscript, long before they were published. With the help of the store's knowledgeable staff I have researched sixteen books, including several historical novels and—go figure!—a treatise about aphrodisiacs. Before writing a trilogy for young adults I attended the store's Children's Writers Conference, and later, so that I could learn what kids really like to read, they organized a yearlong kids' book club.

This bookstore is the cultural soul of a large community. It's the place to take writing classes, learn languages, attend conferences, participate in book clubs and speakers' series, and, if you are a teenager, Twitter-talk (whatever that is). Elaine and Bill Petrocelli work with schools, community organizations, and restaurants, they do fund-raising for many causes, and they have a partnership with Dominican University so that students can receive credit for classes and conferences. Their clientele is so loyal that Amazon and the chains have not been able to put them out of business, and, let me tell you, they have tried.

The only place as comforting as a friendly bookstore is probably your grandmother's kitchen. The sight of shelves packed with books of all kinds, the smell of printed paper and coffee, and the secret rustle of the characters that live in the pages warm up any heart. I go to Book Passage to pass the time, to read, to gossip, and to lift my spirit. But I have also gone there to share my sorrow, as I did when I was grieving for my daughter's death. At the store, amidst all those books, many of which were painful memoirs, I realized that I had to write Paula's story, as others had written about their broken hearts before me. During that terrible year of mourning I spent many hours at Book Passage writing by hand, sipping tea, and wiping my tears, supported by my friends at the store who kept me company while respecting my privacy.

Sometimes, when I have a fight with Willie, or when I feel particularly nostalgic, I fantasize about going back to live in Chile, but I know it will never happen—because my dog can't travel so far, and I am not willing to lose Book Passage.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from My Bookstore Copyright © 2012 by Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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