My Oh My

As a traveling bookstore based in northwest Montana, I take winter seriously.  Travels slow down this time of year and most events are closer to home until early Spring.  Yes, there is still sorting books and ordering tshirts, reading because of course talking books is up brittanythere among favorite activities, and getting the typewriter repaired after a summer of many children trying it out with youthful vigor.  The bookstore will open for Shop Small Saturday (November 24) next to Montana Farmacy in Eureka and then on December 1 at the Holly Faire in Eureka.

But this last week there was such a flurry of activity on the bookstore’s social media I wondered what in the world was going on.  Not only ‘likes’ but messages, phone calls, emails and tshirt orders.  It took a few days to determine that an article about the traveling bookstore on Bookbub had gotten the word out to many corners of the world. A bookseller in India wrote me about the van, an author in Colorado invited me to visit, and a writer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin offered to send me copies of her books. And these are just a few of the numerous people who wrote such good things to me about the bookstore and the idea of making books available in all sorts of out of the way places.

This could be a very long post but I assume you are busy helping to get the vote out and/or thinking about the upcoming holidays.  Let me narrow my thoughts to just a few. This fall has been a challenging one for us all with the elections, decisions made in Washington, and the tragedies in Pittsburgh, Kentucky and Florida.  There are many times even within a day when I wonder what I can do to help my community, my country. When the bookstore’s social media started ringing off the wall, I assumed it was something devious but then realized there were good people out there, united around the idea of books and reading, and enthused to see someone with a new bookstore concept (albeit small).  To me, it felt like light coming through the clouds.  Not that it changed the political situation, but it was a reminder of our shared humanity in a tiny way.

Also I wanted to thank Brittany Shoot who was the first journalist to recognize the wonders of a traveling bookstore.  I found this photo from when she hung with the bookstore on a very chilly morning in Woodstock, Illinois.  It was in the parking lot of Isabel’s Family Restaurant.  Another reminder with Brittany’s cheering the bookstore on through snow and ice and Isabel’s providing awesome pie how despite the miles and countless stops, how much the bookstore needs a community even when traveling.

Thank you.

 

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A different view

I can point to lots of things.  Just had cataract surgery so one eye is very clear and focused while the other lags behind until next week.  Then there is the political situation which is hard to easily capture.  Sides so divisive now some friendships are ending, there are those family members who stop communicating and various community Facebook pages are shut down due to profanity.  The aspen and larch trees have become golden.  And when I get up early in the morning to walk before the work day begins, it is dark out.  IMG_2524

The bookstore takes a break for a few weeks. Then in November we set up for Shop Small Saturday on 11/24 from 10:00 – 4:00 parked next to Montana Farmacy.  And on December 1, the traveling bookstore will be at the annual Holly Faire from 9:00 – 5:00 at Eureka’s Creative Arts Center. Both enjoyable events plus a chance to find great gifts and support local merchants and artisans.  The bookstore will offer its usual amazing selection of gently used books, St. Rita’s tshirts, gift cards, vintage postcards, and gift certificates.  And yes, the typewriter will be set up in case you want to type a poem or holiday greeting to send someone special or a letter to your representative.

See? This is what I mean.  There are truly dark moments when the days get shorter and the news out of Washington is utterly depressing.  Then I read a wondrous book (Pride by Ibi Zoboi) or watch the autumn sun come through the old school house windows as women hand quilt on a Friday afternoon.  Of course, none of this comes easily.  Ibi Zoboi, while immigrating to the US with her mother, actually had months of separation before the authorities would allow her in.  A quilt takes countless stitches (and sore fingers) to complete.  No doubt it will take even more work for us to make positive changes, to address the starvation in Yemen, the thousands of detained children still in tent camps in Texas. Despite the darkness though, we need to look at these things. And act.

Searching for truth

Where to begin? The traveling bookstore rolled into Missoula for the Montana Book Festival.  An exciting weekend with fascinating panel discussions, a wide range of readings, even some music.  Fellow vendors at the Florence building were a delight to talk with and to explore their wares – books, zines, literary postcards and pins.  I don’t think the beverage Processed with MOLDIVprovided by Whiskey Tit influenced me too much on Saturday.  I certainly recommend their selection of books which are well designed and offer an intense read.  Hope to travel with these folks some day providing a traveling bookstore for their author readings. Far Country Press was also at the Montana Book Festival which had Lincoln County’s very own Bernice Ende‘s book, ‘Lady Long Rider.’

Yes, the weather was chilly and quite windy.  The bookstore’s sandwich board blew over so many times, I finally put it away.  As it is difficult to be a bookseller wearing gloves, I came home with chapped hands.  But this is a very small grumble compared to the individuals I met and the ideas that flowed standing on N. Higgins Ave in the autumnal gusts.

As the Book Festival began Thursday, by Friday when we were well under way, it was also when the Kavanaugh hearings gripped many people’s attention.  For myself, I wondered what more I could be doing then being an itinerant bookseller set up on the street. Our country seems to be seriously slipping into a dark realm I don’t recognize.  As a nation, do we no longer champion respect for others, active listening, and women’s rights? Even as the hearings held everyone’s attention, there are still thousands of unrepresented children in detention centers, a national debt that is skyrocketing and a president who doesn’t believe in globalization in the 21st century.

I began asking customers (if they seemed likely to pause a bit in their shopping), what they were doing in these challenging times.  A man who thoroughly enjoys books and works for a firm that helped sponsor the Book Festival, told me about the volunteer work he did with young people in his community.  A woman carrying Kathleen Williams signs empathized with me and pointed out the need to stay strong.  She is involved in local voter registration.

Then there was a boy who is currently homeless searching for a book on homesteading.  I didn’t have one available that day so he got a book on growing vegetables.  His hand was bandaged from fighting. I wondered what besides books was an answer.  A woman in very light pants, sweatshirt and no socks stopped by.  She asked for cash to buy winter clothes.  A customer who happened to be taking a picture of the bookstore at that moment, gave her a contribution.  An Australian photographer stopped at the bookstore. He is doing a project on faces in Montana.  I asked how he could even begin to capture the essence of this state unless he took a million photos.  I feel even three days in Missoula presented too many individuals for me to grasp.

There were state queens from the SUPER Mrs Pageant, a poet from southern California, a man elegantly attired who spoke of places he had lived all over the world and how he came to be in Missoula on that particular afternoon.  Students from the university stopped by, some of the wonderful people connected with Humanities Montana, friends from Eureka in town for their son’s track meet, and an individual with a great smile who told me I was ‘living the dream.’  When he said that, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

 

 

πόλις

I suspect with a traveling bookstore, things seem to go faster than if my business was in one place, situated in a brick-and-mortar bookstore securely settled at one address.  At least that is how it felt recently. Within the last week, there was a fantastic article about the bookstore by Brittany Shoot in Atlas Obscura.  There was a day spent canvassing for the upcoming November election that brought forth stronger opinions then I typically hear when the bookstore is set up. There was setting up at a harvest festival yesterday in a Montana town and meeting all sorts of people: an individual from a Methodist church who offered books left over from their annual book sale, a high school student who immediately fell in love with the traveling bookstore concept and is going to save Processed with MOLDIVto start her own, an author who writes about what racism feels like in small Western rural communities, a teen mom excited to find a copy of The Swiss Family Robinson because she read it as a child and wants to share it with her new family, and a lively conversation about growing old in reference to Ursula Le Guin’s No Time to Spare. Also over the past week there has been harsh discussion on local social media about a political poster at the county fair. There are times when I am tempted to ignore things, but I can’t

Friends point out it might be better for my business to stay apolitical.  But I know after umpteen years that it isn’t possible.  Thinking about this today while reflecting on everything that came my way this week, I remembered the Greek word πόλις (polis) and how that evolved to become the English word politics.

Decades ago when first starting to support myself, I decided it was good to do work that wasn’t involved with politics. I ended up cooking at the Salvation Army. Within a fairly short time though, I realized cooking for people who came through the dinner line brought up questions about who needed food, where that food came from,  and what determined who has access to what kinds of food.  Even as a cook, I was involved in a political situation.  Some years later I found myself teaching basic skills to adults: reading, writing and mathematics to people who for numerous reasons hadn’t picked up these skills earlier in life.  Before too much time went by, I realized what brought those students into the classroom was very much a product of political decisions.  Which schools had enough funding? What quality of teachers were available? What did a school board support?

I eventually realized it is impossible to find a place in civic life that isn’t political one way or another.  Thus with a traveling bookstore – what books are on the shelves, which towns do I go to, which neighborhoods? And each of these decisions from books to where the traveling bookstore sets up says something about my politics.  I can’t be apolitical. None of us can.

 

 

 

 

Community

The traveling bookstore set up at the Lincoln County Fair over the weekend. Three days of 4H kids with their animals. Jars of jams, crusty breads and plates of fudge being sampled and awarded ribbons, a booth raffling a rifle, another raffling a painting.  There was live music and delicious pies, the most beautiful flowers people grew to enter as well as prize vegetables. A couboystyping2018nty fair in a county whose population is around 20,000.  Enough entries in Foods, Crafts and Arts to enjoy wandering through but not overwhelming crowds. A pleasure to talk with neighbors, hang with kids, visit with other vendors and, of course, sell books.

Lots of conversations over the three days about politics, about how to engage with people whose conclusions are fundamentally different from mine, about what makes a good community, about various books.  The one that still rumbles in my mind is about community.  Community is so closely tied to home that it is necessary to make sense of it.  At least for me.

When I am on the road with the bookstore, city people often ask what it is like to live in a small town.  I point out the things I like. I know my neighbors, I trust my mechanic, I can leave my front door unlocked. When there is a need I feel strongly about, it might be possible to do something about it.  Twenty years ago a group of us formed an organization to bring in an annual professional concert series.  It has continued and even grown.  This winter there will be jazz musicians from Seattle, Ghanaian performers, a classical quintet, a blues band from Vancouver, BC, and a Irish/Scottish duo from Oregon.  Living in a small town forces me to talk with a variety of people, not only those who think the same way I do.  Our local book club has women all across the political spectrum and from numerous religions with a few atheists mixed in as well.

I know that some local businesses I use are owned by people who don’t agree with my politics. And I don’t agree with theirs. But I shop in their store and they buy books from me. It is a necessity because otherwise we would each need to drive seventy miles one way to go to a bigger town.  A bit too far to pick up a James Lee Burke novel or get a can of spray paint. So we find ways to get along, some activities mutually enjoyed liked listening to good music, going to the local microbrewery. And sometimes we have to face our differences and try to have a civil discussion.  It doesn’t always work, but sometimes.

But do we have consensus as to what makes a good community?  There are diverse opinions about local schools.  Some of us want better academics, others are interested in a trophy winning football team. Should the elementary library carry books with Muslim characters?  Outside of school, where should the jobs be?  Open up the forests for more logging or train people for jobs that require other skills? I try to understand my role as a small business owner in this town, finding ways to improve the quality of life.  But whose life? The county fair gave me three days to glimpse the heart of this community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To je škoda

The traveling bookstore needs a new alternator.  It became evident Wednesday when it needed to be jumped twice – once going to the farmers market and then by the end of the market, it wouldn’t start again. Another jump and I drove it directly to the local mechanics.  Eureka being a small town, the part won’t be in until Monday which means cancelling two venues this weekend – the Historic Hotel Libby and Riverfront Blues Festival.  First time a mechanical problem prevented the bookstore from getting somewhere it needed to go.  The Czech saying ‘to je škoda’ came to mind.IMG_2976

So a few unscheduled days open up as the bookstore sits at the mechanics.  This morning instead of getting up early to drive to Libby, MT, I sit over coffee writing posts, writing letters, planning for the next few weeks, appreciating some time to reflect.  With summer activities, very hot weather, forest fires filling the sky with smoke, and the political state in this country, there is certainly plenty to reflect on.

Last summer also had bad forest fires. Tensions in this valley rose. Where to put the blame for the loss of timber, loss of homes, loss of tourist dollars, and loss of clear summer skies?  There were all sorts of accusations, harsh condemnations. When the weather is too hot and the sky a ghostly yellow blocking any view of the mountains, I understand people wanting to yell, wanting to find someone or something to blame.  Some sources say this weather and the amount of fires we experience will be the new norm.  How will this community adapt if tourists stop coming in August because smoke hangs heavy? How can I adapt to not being short tempered?

And then there is the political situation.  Does the word political even begin to cover the magnitude of the current times in this country?  Strong divisions, curtailing human rights, public lands used for personal profit, confrontations, mass shootings.  Locally I watch our mental health services and medical care erode.  The Congressman from Montana won the election the day after beating up a journalist.

So a day to think on these things, to write letters and to decide which actions are sensible in these times. To not let the heat or fires fuel over reactions or cause passivity. To use the time allotted in the best possible way.

 

Thanks

Thanks to the very good friends who put me up (and put up with me) while I was on the recent west coast road trip with the bookstore.  I much appreciated the parking spots for the bookstore, the beds for me, delicious meals and, of course, that strong morning coffee.

And thanks to the gracious businesses that hosted the traveling bookstore. Some were Processed with MOLDIVreturn venues which are always a treat.  Some were entirely new and delightfully surprising.  Your support for this small pop-up business is appreciated. If it weren’t for you providing a space, I would probably get citations from local law enforcement.

And the wonderful people who stopped/shopped at the bookstore! Parents with kids, wise elders, hipsters and folks who just happened to walk by and decided to investigate a van that was actually a bookstore.  There were many individuals whose conversations stay with me….talk about current politics, the Wieliczka salt mine, the dire situation with ICE detainees in Oregon, favorite authors, the struggles as urban neighborhoods gentrify, the challenging twists that life sometimes throws our way, the wonder of book clubs in all sorts of communities, bees, homelessness and expanding tent neighborhoods, the death of a young daughter, typewriters and the people who use them, fix them and collect them.

Now back in northwest Montana sending thanks to all of you who make this happen.