Reading a Golden Book

I must have been pretty young, because it was Golden Books we were after.

Poky Little Puppy

Me and Auntie, stopping in at Brasfield’s drug store in Greenfield, Tennessee on a muggy summer afternoon. Auntie, my great aunt, was an important lady, a home economics teacher whose house stood in a field of green beans. I had her all to myself when she took me to buy a book.

Auntie copy

Auntie’s father, J.P. White, another important person, owned the drugstore, smack in the middle of Front Street, just across from the sober-faced local bank. J.P. had long been the town’s pharmacist, as life-saving as anyone with a doctor’s degree in this doctor-less town.

Brasfield’s had fancy floors of black-and-white half-dollar tiles, a grand soda fountain where my grandmother, Auntie’s sister, had jerked sodas as a teenager, tables topped with marble, coca-cola chairs. Body powder and lotion and perfume lined the shelves, making Brasfield’s the place to go when you needed a present for somebody special.

soda-fountain-bottled-waste

And most important, right up at the front, a wooden rack with magazines and books. Golden Books.

Uncle Wiggly

I’d get to choose one, take it back to hunker down with in the little living room Auntie shared with Uncle Bob or on the vast wraparound porch of my grandmother’s house, on the creaky glider.

Frosty

Picking a Golden Book was my first experience of picking a book, choosing for myself what book to bring home from the cluttered selection in a store. My idea of what I wanted to read. No one else’s.

I thought of a hot summer day with Auntie and The Poky Little Puppy when I read a lovely essay by  Rebecca Makkai   in Ploughshares Literary Magazine. She writes in How to Shop at a Bookstore: An Easy 20-Step Guide for Authors 

about what happens when an author enters a shop, the jitters and the excitement that go with knowing that your name actually appears on one of the thousands of volumes there. One thing that happens is thinking back to bookstore of yesteryear. She writes:

“First, smell it. Look at the new arrivals, lined up like candy. See if, for just one second, you can remember what it was like to walk into a bookstore as a reader. Just a reader, a happy, curious reader. With no agenda, no insecurities, no history of bookstores as scenes of personal failure and triumph. Wish for a time machine.”

I recall patronizing the great Strand Bookstore on 12th Street and Broadway back thirty years ago, the smell of the paper, the sense that I could find absolutely anything there. Having known and loved the store so long made it thrilling when I found my own book there.

strand

I was delighted to read Makkai’s fresh and honest perspective.

She talks about other parts of the experience authors have in temples of literature, commercial as they are. Such as turning your book around so that shoppers see the cover rather than the spine. (Spine, by the way, is one of the simpler terms that come into play when discussing a book. For more on attributes such as wire lines, chain lines and head-pieces, take a look at 10 Terms to Describe the Anatomy of a Book

 Makkai, whose authorial experience includes the novel The Borrower (Viking, 2011) and numerous short stories, writes about the decision that’s in store for you once you get over the shock of finding yourself on the shelf.

RebeccaMakkai

“There are two copies. If there were only one, you could walk away right now. Because, you’d tell yourself, it might be sad to offer to sign their one and only paperback copy of your book, a copy they were probably planning to return to the publisher tomorrow. A copy they probably ordered by mistake. If there were five, with a lovely staff pick card right below, you could waltz confidently to the counter. But you have to do this. Because it helps the store, and it doesn’t hurt you either. And everyone knows that this is how you build relationships with booksellers.”

slideshow_std_h_417216_491934997486728_2085187251_n

And she’s funny talking about approaching the checkout to sign those copies: “Thank god there’s a cat on the counter. Stroke the cat manically when you approach. The fact that you hate cats is irrelevant.”

But the thing that had me thinking about Auntie and The Poky Puppy is number 18:

“As you cross the street with your bag of new books, remember the first time your mother took you to a bookstore and told you to pick something out. To keep, not borrow. You were overwhelmed by choice and wonder. Remember how you pulled things off the shelf at random because every book was equally unknown and fresh and promising.”

Today, the first discovery of books is usually glitzier than Brasfield’s drug store. You’re as likely to get your stories on a screen as you are on a page. But that’s not all bad. Check out these animated pop up books and see if they don’t give your imagination wings.

The important thing is to have an Auntie there with you to hold your hand.

4 Comments

Filed under Fiction, History, Jean Zimmerman, Publishing, Writers, Writing

4 responses to “Reading a Golden Book

  1. Thanks for the link, it’s great.

  2. ANN HOFFER

    Golden Books! Half-dollar tiles! Paper Engineering! All very interesting. And (thinking about anatomy) here’s one of my favorite videos: “The Birth of a Book” … http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financevideo/9067569/Birth-of-a-Book-a-tour-of-Smith-Settles-handmade-bookbinding-process.html

  3. Steve and Betty Zimmerman

    Beautiful blog! Just so you know, when you write something about our family, I print it and stick it inside our copy of your “Made from Scratch” book. It’s getting filled up!

    Sent from my iPad

  4. Zimmerman Betty and Steve

    Jeannot for publication. The summer of 1947, I believe, between my Freshman and Sophomore years at Princeton, I worked as a first reader at Golden Books.

    I was only 17 at the time (18 that summer) but my father was a friend of Richard Simon (Dick to his friends), the co-founder of Simon & Schuster. Simon was a year younger than my father and I don’t remember how they became friends.

    I “read” a dozen or so Golden Book submissions every day. Most of them were awful. But every week or so, I found one or two that were passable and I forwarded them to the next level.

    I don’t know if any of them ever saw the light of day as a Golden Book.

    Dick Simon died eleven years before my father (but I didn’t know that until just now when I Googled him).

    Thought you’d be interested.

    Dad

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