summer and here we are moving towards the end of August. There are still more events happening so you can catch the traveling bookstore in northwest Montana before the snow flies.
And the traveling bookstore has slightly expanded its repertoire. Besides a great selection of used books in all sorts of categories, there is a wonderful selection of postcards from all over the world, blank greeting cards and even a typewriter (with a fresh ribbon). You can type your sweetie a poem or write a serious note to someone in Washington to express your ideas and offer suggestions. And now we even have a theremin. It is a musical instrument unlike any you have probably tried. Odd enough that it doesn’t seem the least bit threatening. You don’t have to actually touch anything to play it. If you haven’t experienced a theremin yet, now might just be the time. Stop by the bookstore and give it a spin. Meanwhile you can see how a virtuoso does it in this clip with Carolyn Eyck. The theremin and the typewriter seem to be a good combo – wonderful inventions that allow people to be creative without overwhelming them. At least that is how I feel when I interact with each of them. And both compact enough to fit in a traveling bookstore. What could be better?
June had the traveling bookstore in Portland and San Francisco. July had it in western Washington state. There was the day set up at Kent Station. You might think this would be mundane. A yawn, just another bookstore day. Nope. Its not like that with the traveling bookstore business. Each time the door is opened and the accoutrements set out, a new adventure unfolds. The day at Kent Station had a group of artists sketching the bookstore in the morning light. It was the first time to use Square so customers can decide how they want to pay for their literary treasures. It was a conversation with an older woman about St. Rita’s Church in Tacoma. It was asking customers to add to the sandwich board so now the concept of traveling bookstore is in English, Japanese, Hebrew, French and Korean. It was sushi for lunch and delicious homemade cookies for an afternoon snack. It was meeting two young teachers who helped get the word out on their social media.
And then the bookstore left the urban scene to drive up numerous curves and through tall trees, beside sparkling lakes and signs advertising huckleberries for sale. It bumped gently down a dirt road near Ashford to park for a few days. A small but intense group of people there found books on poetry and philosophy and music that fit their tastes. And the bookstore picked up some new (used) books for its shelves including a volume of Blake, a guide to Mt. Rainier and an excellent English translation of the Tao Te Ching. Then back down the winding roads leaving the cedars and quiet lakes behind to drive north through Seattle and to Bellingham.
Even when not officially set up, there are spontaneous discussions. A clerk at a Seattle music store came out to the parking lot to ask about the bookstore. People ask about it when we stop to get gas. A couple from Illinois wondered about starting their own traveling bookstore business. A man from Eugene sitting in a bar saw it out the window and wondered how it worked. And always invitations to bring it to new places and different events. The traveling bookstore business can be a slippery slope. Surely one could be on the road 365 days taking it to urban centers and quiet towns, to music festivals and birthday parties. But it also feels good to have it parked at home. There is a chance to change out the books, to put in new options for curious readers. There is a chance to get the oil changed and to sweep out crumbs (yes the driver does eat cookies sometimes). And to read.
June’s traveling bookstore events have been checked off. Great adventures in Eureka, the Yaak, Portland and San Francisco. There was musing with members from Cristina’s book club in Portland and learning about Mircea’s mathematical toys that are now carried (when available as they sell out quickly) in the bookstore. There was meeting Brittany when we set up at the SF Center for the Book and having conversations with her about the life style of a traveling bookstore owner. There were wonderful people met on Mission Street who bought books and donated books. There was Karen at Mission Pie who throws the best Type-In ever and exudes the feeling of community. There was the magic of walking into the SF Center for the Book and seeing all those magnificent printing presses and people learning to set type and bind books. There was Ethan’s mom in Portland who invited the bookstore to open up near Sacramento the next time it passes through that region and Cheryl who invited the bookstore to Healdsburg. There was Matt at Ace Typewriter Repair in Portland who fixed five typewriters so quickly we couldn’t believe it, let the bookstore set up in front of his business for the day and offered new ideas for the next time the bookstore is in that town. There was Gwen in the Yaak who knows how to make everyone feel welcome and makes the best BBQ sandwiches. There was the young man at a Jiffy Lube in Spokane who helped problem solve a mechanical glitch with the bookstore on a Sunday morning and Melissa who lent cash when my wallet was stolen in Oakland. There were all the children who marveled at using a typewriter, the individuals who were happy to find just the right book(s) to buy, the invites to bring the bookstore to other towns and events.
Yes, it was an exhilarating month and an exhausting month. The traveling bookstore business is not for the fainthearted. The conversations, the driving, schlepping books and typewriters, and the excitement of new people, new ideas and new problems require sufficient energy. Which is why the hospitality offered by Cristina and Melissa and Kevin and Wendy meant so much along the way, along with meals shared with Shammus, Steve, Jesse and others.
And now we are teetering on July and more adventures. The month opens on July 1, setting up at HA Brewery just south of Eureka. On July 14-15, the bookstore returns to the Yaak for the annual Music Festival there. And on most Wednesdays we are open at the Eureka farmers market. The bookstore travels across Washington to Kent Station and Tacoma at the end of the month with a possible event in Bellingham (still searching for the ideal location to set up there). The shelves are tightly packed with new books, exciting finds and old favorites. The postcard selection has expanded and of course, there is always a chance to sit down and talk for a while. Follow us on FB for specific dates and times. Really the word ‘traveling’ doesn’t begin to capture the wonder of all this particular bookstore is capable of being.
The traveling bookstore is hitting the road big time. Or at least bigger than it has since this venture began two years. As St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore starts its third season, the events where it is is setting up are far, wide and exciting. Here is a quick list to get started and then more thoughts about all of it:
…and more as summer unfolds.
Besides bringing a wonderful selection of used books and vintage postcards to a location near you, the traveling bookstore is also an opportunity to have conversations and to explore dreams. That’s how it started after all; a dream to open a bookstore and the reality that it would be tough to make that business financially viable in a town with a population of 1,037. So with enough conversations and enough brainstorming, here it is – a bookstore that can travel to where people are, a bookstore that has low overhead when parked in a small town, which can then travel to set up at a music festival, in a city or in front of your house (if you want to throw a literary party). It’s about following one’s dream and finding ways to make it happen.
It would be great to meet up with you along the way. Hope you are at one of these summer events or decide to arrange for the bookstore to come to your town/city. And, if you don’t mind, please help get the word out about this amazing traveling bookstore.
Someone asked me yesterday why I don’t review more books in this blog. I mulled it over for a few minutes and realized that for me books are vehicles. You might find this slightly amusing especially coming from the owner/driver of a traveling bookstore, but that is how I see it. Writers have ideas or stories, facts, poems, essays or opinions they capture in words on a page and then those pages sometimes turn into books. The books carry those creations from the author out into the wider world. This concept goes along beautifully with the reality of a traveling bookstore, which then carries those books to whatever event or parking lot the bookstore happens to stop at to set up.
And the traveling bookstore business is also a vehicle for conversations. The majority of customers end up talking with me. They are curious about how this traveling bookstore got started. Some tell me about their own dreams for a business or a new place, taking inspiration from how I am striving to realize mine. Others begin by talking about a book or author and end up talking about themselves. I suspect part of this penchant for conversation comes from the interior dimensions of the traveling bookstore. There aren’t numerous aisles to wander through or cozy back corners with a stuffed chair where one might settle in to read quietly. There is one aisle. And especially for people who have never experienced it before, there is often a hesitation to go into that. They see the sign that this is a bookstore but they aren’t entirely sure if they should go inside. Thus there is often a conversation to begin with – yes, this is a bookstore and yes you can go in. If people begin to read a book, especially children, they tend to sit down on the floor in the only aisle or in the doorway.
Perhaps this all might seem a stretch as to why I don’t write book reviews. If I did, it would be about a particular book that touched me. Not about a book I feel you should read. If I suggest a book to someone, it usually is in response to a conversation we had. So vehicles, yes, that’s what it’s about: the books that are carried on the shelves and the conversations shared wherever the bookstore is parked. Vehicles of imagination and beauty. Vehicles that transport us to unimagined places and times. Vehicles that bring us together.
Fear. It doesn’t have to be our default. Yet often that is where I hear people go these days. An older woman who doesn’t leave an abusive relationship tells me she is afraid of being alone. A young family in Helena, MT had plans to move to an east coast city for career opportunities. Now they tell me they will stay in minimum wage jobs in Helena because they are afraid of the possibility of N. Korean bombing a larger US city. In airports and bus stations I am urged to report anyone’s suspicious behavior or if I notice unattended luggage. When I recently mentioned that an artist from Croatia might do a residency in our town, someone asked if it was safe to bring a Croatian to our community.
I take the traveling bookstore wherever people might be interested in reading. Now I feel compelled to put more books on the shelves that turn people away from fear. Do they need to read about courage? Perhaps be persuaded by a tome to take a step towards adventure? Are there printed words that can push someone to try something they want to do, need to do? Are there books that provide us with the stamina to not let politicians or the media or timidity stand in the way?
So many remarkable stories: Wiesel’s Night, Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, West with the Night, Fahrenheit 451 and Animal Farm; poetry from Walt Whitman to Lucinda Clifton. Words on the page that hopefully move someone from sitting in fear to taking action. It is hard to say which book might work for the woman in the abusive relationship or the man in my town who fears foreigners from countries he knows nothing about. I have to believe that reading just the right words might open their eyes to a life not limited by fear, to help push aside the bars that cage them.