A hole in the heel of my favorite wool sock, I’m trekking along one of the most enchanting trails I’ve known, Dead Man’s Pass in Sedona, Arizona, which forks off of the Long Canyon trail toward Boynton Canyon.
There are open vistas all around, across the landscape of low manzanita forest toward the brick-red monuments all around, a straight route over the top of the world. It can’t help but make you consider your life. How all the pieces have come together. The luck you’ve had. The good that has inadvertently come your way, as undeserving as you might be. How we’re all in it together, somehow. Heel rubbed sore or not.
“Human kind has not woven the web of life,” said Chief Seattle. “We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. Alll things are bound together.”
I’m thinking of sores, and bandaids. And about books.
Last year when I went around the country to talk about The Orphanmaster, I heard from so many booksellers about the challenges of their business, the wickedness of Amazon, the evils of electronic publishing. All very polite, of course. But the idea was that the goodly paper-and-ink culture of books and book selling was suffering because of all these developments and might never recover.
Now comes an article in the Christian Science Monitor that extolls independent book stores, says the trend is all good, that indies are reviving across the country. The “chief content officer” of Kobo, which connects e-readers to book stores, puts it vividly. “We absolutely believe indies are the small, fast-moving mammals in this dynamic,” says Michael Tambley. One bookstore owner, Wendy Welch, of Tales of the Lonesome Pine in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, offers, succinctly, “2012 was the year of the ‘bookstore.’” In January 2013, the ABA reported 40 new bookstores since the previous May.
It’s not that bookstores aren’t shutting their doors; they are. But sales at existing ones have gone up and new ones are busting out bookcases with alacrity. Some of the success stems from a “shop local” trend: “All things are bound together,” as Chief Seattle put it, especially communities.
Of the 32 speaking engagements I had last year, 15 took place at independent bookstores (I also spoke at libraries, historical societies, book colloquies, clubs of various kinds, etc.). At R.J. Julia Booksellers, in Connecticut, the sparkplug owner gave me the most gracious intro I’ve had, and insisted I take a book gratis. In the Bay Area, at Book Passage, I was given cream-colored stationery engraved with my initials. A few of the businesses that received me so warmly have since seen hard times or even gone under.
But on that trip, I saw so many stores that made a writer feel welcome, that conveyed the notion that we were all part of a vast, well-wrought web of readers and authors and publishers and bookstores, Amazon and the other meanies be damned.
There was one memorable evening on August 15 at Boswell Book Company in Milwaukee.
The proprietor of Boswell’s is a pip.
Daniel Goldin, a young guy who worked as a buyer for Schwartz books on North Downer Avenue, bought the place when a local book chain closed after 82 years, in 2009. He had an elfin energy. He scrambled around to make the screen and chairs and lectern all fit just right in the back of the store for my presentation. He wore a shirt in a vivid shade of purple. The Christian Science Monitor relates that he refused to be photographed for their article reading a book, saying, “We don’t read in the store.” They’re simply too busy.
Not too busy to make this first-time fiction author feel like a star.
And another thing about Boswell, Goldin, and the hole in my sock. The thing that got me started mulling over the whole thing in the first place: at the back of the busy store stands a tall translucent vitrine filled with a collection of vintage Bandaid boxes. Why was it there? Simply a quirk of the owner, who collects them.
That’s why they call booksellers independent.