This bookstore tour – and we are only one week in – could be its own book. How to capture the highlights/lowlights, the people, the impressions and the reflections?

The traveling bookstore has a new look. The Sprinter van is sitting home, waiting for my return and a discussion with the mechanics about what can be done. So currently the bookstore does its traveling in a Subaru Crosstrek, then pops out of the car in all its glory. It took Yvetta (co-traveler on this tour) and me a few days to figure it out. Actually it took a rather large and very gracious committee to figure it out. Matthew of Beyond Graphics emailed a file of the bookstore’s logo to Marla in Bozeman. By the time we reached Bozeman (our first stop on the tour), Marla had two large signs made for us!

Bookstore at Constellation Studios

That first gig (Bozeman) happened on a blustery day with wind blowing, temps low, and occasional snow. The books had been packed and thus displayed in cardboard boxes which weren’t looking as though they would survive a month on the road. That’s when Oskar came by, immediately saw the problem, went back home and returned in twenty minutes with plastic milk crates which help immeasurably. By the time we pulled into Casper, WY for the second gig, we felt we were doing better except it was still a challenge to balance all the books, crates and boxes on one table, and not a very large table as it needs to fit in the Subaru. So we expanded our children’s book section to the ground with drop cloths and a pillow.

Third gig was at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and we felt we were rocking it. The kind folks there lent us a second table so we had fiction, nonfiction and children’s books all neatly divided and enough room for students to enjoy perusing our selections. It was an incredible event sponsored by the UPC. So many young people got books during that day, we nearly ran out! Their enthusiasm for reading was truly inspiring. We closed early to restock – checking out thrift stores and putting out the word to everyone possible who might have books to donate.

As often happens with this traveling bookstore venture, I am at a loss for words how to capture it. There we are sourcing books in any way possible, and selling them. And not only getting books donated, but getting help in all sorts of ways. Besides the university, MAP Brewery in Bozeman, Backwards Distillery in Casper, and Constellation Studios in Lincoln, NE provided space for us to set up. We arrived in Arkansas yesterday, and already folks here are pitching in. Debby found a popup tent we can borrow if needed. The public library in Lincoln offered to let us set up inside the library to avoid possible rain. The people managing the Eureka Springs Community Center also offered to have us set up inside (looks like three solid days of rain in the region).

Quote from Barry Lopez exhibit at Sheldon Museum, NE

Folks we are staying with in Canehill, Arkansas introduced Yvetta to gumbo and cornbread for dinner. In Lincoln, NE, we had a delicious Ethiopian meal (another first for Yvetta). In Bozeman, our hosts fixed us lasagna after that very challenging first day on the road in the snow without the van. A fortifying meal that helped carry us forward. And the conversations! Art, the environment, politics, literature and, of course, place. We stayed with an individual whose family has lived in Montana for seven generations. And Lincoln, NE is a sanctuary city so there are wonderful individuals from all over the world. We spoke with people who are actively engaged in trying to make their community safe and welcoming. A young student at the university selected a book on Japanese culture. I thought perhaps he was an international studies major – but no, he is studying engineering. He told me learning about other cultures is interesting for him, and also gives him insight on himself.

The tour gives me hope people are caring, thoughtful and willing to reach out to others. Even as I hear the dismal news about the Montana legislature barring Zooey Zephyr, read about various groups trying to ban books, or how some people want to overturn environmental protection, there are individuals we are meeting on this trip who give me hope. Now I need to learn how to use these experiences to do more in my life, with my words.



In novels, there are all sorts of meetings between strangers. Roger Mifflin meets Helen McGill in Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels, and within a few pages, Helen buys Roger’s traveling bookstore. Or the children meet the new neighbors who move into their neighborhood, being inspired and inspiring in the children’s book Araboolies of Liberty Street. Or Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years where we watch Delia walk away from her old life to discover different aspects of herself, meeting new people along the way (this novel always comes together in my mind with the film, Pane e Tulipani).

I assume in most of our lives we have unexpected encounters that blossom. Someone sitting across from me in the California Zephyr’s dining car.  Or Deb and Chris who stopped by the traveling bookstore in North Carolina five years ago and we immediately began talking about literature and the humanities, and have remained in touch. This April, I’ll stay with them while doing a bookstore tour through Arkansas. Or last fall, I searched out possible connection for some place to stay with my bookstore while in Brookings, SD for the state’s annual book festival.  I was finally given the contact for a couple and knew by the time I left town after the festival, that Phyllis and Jihong and I had begun a friendship.

There was an afternoon eight years ago in Eureka while helping out at a local nonprofit’s office that I answered the phone. An employee who worked on the American side of the US-Canadian border (seven miles north of Eureka) was processing a young Cuban family seeking asylum. She asked if someone could please come to help this family as they didn’t have transportation or a place to stay once their initial paperwork was completed.  When I got to the border, I met Maie, Adonis and their young daughter.

After four days during which we figured out their options, the family moved to Helena, found jobs, had another daughter, filled out volumes of paperwork, became US citizens, got better jobs, and this week came back to Eureka to visit. It was remarkable to hear all they’ve accomplished, to see the two girls growing up confident, curious, and smart. To recognize the roles we played in each other’s lives, and to appreciate the value of these connections.

Yes, there are plot lines and arcs in novels – some more feasible than others. But for me, I believe there are connections we can nurture in our lives, opportunities to engage with a new person, to discover shared interests. At times it feels almost effortless. Like showing up at Phyllis and Jihong’s house in South Dakota and immediately feeling there was more to talk about than we could possibly fit into the three days.  Or picking up Adonis and Maie at the border, awed by their decision to move without contacts to a new country, and wanting to know these brave individuals better.

Of course, the traveling bookstore presents countless opportunities to meet new people. On this upcoming bookstore tour, Vicki, a friend of a friend in Caspar offered to put us up and even helped find a gig for the bookstore at Backwards Distillery. Karen Kunc of Constellation Studios again was a friend of a friend. I connected with her last fall in Lincoln, NE and have the good fortune of going back to Lincoln on this April tour. We will be staying at her beautiful studios and also setting the bookstore up there on April 25.

Perhaps you are thinking it doesn’t always work out so well. That there are some encounters where the new person is a jerk, or perhaps not all that interesting. But as with much in life, you have to take a gamble. And sometimes it is so worth it, to end up forming a connection with a remarkable individual who you are thankful for. So please, when not reading a book, consider talking to that person who is standing behind you in line at the movies, or who is perusing titles in the same aisle at a bookstore, or is even next to you waiting to cross the street. Lots of possibilities out there for you.

Starting into a new year

Here in Montana, the temperatures are dipping from twenties to single digits to negative numbers (Fahrenheit) within the next week. But it is winter after all, and it is northwest Montana. So I bundle up when going out, and keep piling up books to read, books to add to the bookstore, looking at maps and reaching out to set up the Spring 2023 Traveling Bookstore Tour. Various people mention to me the idea of writing a book about my experiences with a traveling bookstore, but at this point it seems just making a traveling bookstore happen absorbs a good portion of my time. Perhaps someone out there (Chloe Zhao or Jan Svěrák) will decide to make a film about the bookstore one of these days?

The upcoming Spring Tour includes setting up in twelve locations across nine states including brew pubs, an art studio, a community center, a BBQ joint, a university, a distillery and a public library. A fair number of these have been sorted out over the last few weeks, both where the bookstore will be selling books and where I will lay my head at night. I think by mid February, I should have the map completed and all the events loaded onto the traveling bookstore’s Facebook page. And hopefully the bookstore will be setting up some place near you! I should mention the tour officially starts on April 19 with the goal to be pulling back into Eureka, MT on May 11.

As usual, I feel fortunate with all the individuals who help make these tours happen. There are places I am returning to that welcome the bookstore back like Fiction Beer in Denver, CO and Constellation Studios in Lincoln, NE. There are new places and people that work out so well. I reached out to Becky, a Servas host in Arkansas who helped me arrange a two-day bookstore event at the Eureka Springs Community Center. A chance conversation on a flight brought up the possibility of having the bookstore at a BBQ place in Alabama. The tour unfolds, reminding me of water lilies, the process of slowly opening up and their delicate beauty.

Between maps, emails and phone calls, the books piled on my table currently include Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (dark and so well written), A Geography of Oysters by Rowan Jacobsen (as I recently returned from a coastal trip with a good friend who encouraged us to sample oysters daily), Hopper (a beautiful large format book of Edward Hopper’s paintings that was donated to the bookstore by another friend), and Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last (which came out in 2015 but as with so much of what Atwood writes – encourages us to face the realities of today and do something to make things better).

Hope to see you on the Spring tour.