Books in their many manifestations

There are trips with the traveling bookstore. There are trips taken without the bookstore. There are pristine hardback books I handle reverently when visiting other bookstores. There are paperbacks with tears and coffee stains that friends pass on to me. There are artist books that I make and put my heart into. There are artist books that others make which dazzle me. There are old books that have been chewed by mice and some pages crumble when turned but still the owner is loathed to throw them away. There are books bought and read so quickly that the reader can’t even remember reading them. And there are those special books that one reads again and again and again.

There are surprises in books. A used book that when opened contains a letter in smudged pencil someone was using as a bookmark. There are books that come up on the book club list which don’t look the least bit interesting and then turn out to be a favorite. There is a book someone was ready to throw away and when that particular book finds its way to my bookstore, is the exact book the next customer was searching for.

There are books with such amazing photos that words aren’t necessary. There are books with just enough words to push one through the door into another universe (The Invention of Hugo Cabret). And there are books that one can’t touch but still create magic. This was my experience recently when visiting The Broad, a contemporary art museum in Los Angeles, and watching William Kentridge’s Second Hand Reading.


Take the time

Yes tis the season when there aren’t enough hours in the day especially when the days are so short (although now they are starting to get a bit longer). And those of you who are sensible have either all the gifts bought and wrapped or have opted to go gift free this year because after all there is already so much stuff in our lives (will assume you read Marie Kondo’s book last year).54B1F83F-A90B-4435-B2CF-1584633928CB

But at this late date in the season I am compelled to suggest a book for you. I rarely suggest books because it can go so many ways. There should be some sort of questionnaire readers complete before asking a bookseller to recommend a book. Otherwise it is a completely wild guess as to what particular book might suit a person’s particular reading needs in that moment.

So a bit unusual for me to recommend a book here, but this one is well written and necessary. In these times of #MeToo and numerous sexual assault and harassment charges against individuals in all walks of life, this book captures an essential essence. The author, Chanel Miller, was the victim in a case that was tried as People v. Turner. Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. He was found guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault. He served three months in prison. Miller wrote. And wrote. She wrote a letter to the court that went viral. And now she has written the book, Know My Name.

Chanel Miller documents so many aspects of our current culture that are wrong; the alarming number of women who are assaulted, and the physical and financial trauma they face after the assault from our justice system.  The frequent harassment women experience walking down a street, going out for an evening, attending a party.  And how often this harassment is dismissed as boys being boys.

This is a hard book to read because it asks each us to be stronger, to work towards change in the laws, in the system, in our society, in ourselves.  I really want to see this book selling out at bookstores and picked up by book clubs.  Please read it and then pass it on.


A new venture

We started a new book club in the Tobacco Valley.  It’s called the Open Book Club because you don’t have to RSVP to attend. You just have to read the book and show up to talk about it at HA Brewery. Okay…so maybe there are a few more suggestions.  You should show up by 2:00pm when it starts and only one person talks at a time.  No doubt this is something many of us heard growing up (“Let them finish – don’t interrupt”). When there is a group discussion, listen to the person talking before adding your ideas.  img_0840

Today was the first meeting and it did go well.  People showed up and we had a great conversation. The book was Ivan Doig’s The Sea Runners which seemed like the ideal story to begin a new venture with.  We set out without knowing exactly where we were going.  No idea what we might run into. None of us knew who might be there to take part.  Eight readers showed up for this first one – a hearty group to begin the adventure.  At the end of the discussion, different individuals took on a month they will be responsible for. This means selecting the book and promising to be there for that month’s discussion.

This is an interesting community activity I hope other communities are trying.  It might be easy to have a book club where we know each other well like an old shoe.  Its comfortable. You know what to expect. But an Open Book Club where you aren’t really sure what the person sitting next to you thinks – helps push the envelope on communication skills.  And perhaps it brings up ideas you hadn’t considered. The people at the table aren’t old friends you met with monthly for years, but whoever wanted to talk about Doig’s book this particular Sunday afternoon.  One woman at today’s gathering brought a marine atlas so we could look at Canada’s western coastline to better imagine what the men faced as they canoed from Alaska to Oregon.

I already look forward to next month.

Feb 17: Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt (Collins)

March 17: White Waters and Black by Gordon MacCreagh (Schloeder)

April 21: Utopia by Thomas More (Elrod)

May 19:  Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice by Adam Makos (Hvizdak))

June 16: The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow (Gill)

July 21: East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Hindle)



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.

















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.

Still winter

No doubt about it. It is still winter in this part of Montana.  Snow is piling up, a winter storm warning is in effect and so an ideal time to stay indoors doing bookish things.  I spend part of the day tracking down venues for the Grand 2018 North Carolina and Back Traveling Bookstore Tour.  Some towns seem friendlier than other at welcoming the thought of an amazing pop up bookstore.  I am confident that I will have all venues set for this trip when it occurs in April.  In between sending out these emails, messages and making phone calls though, I read.  Winter in Montana is perfect for that although I suspect I would read just as much if I happened to be in Orlando or Texas or Madagascar. IMG_1131

I imagine others have a habit similar to mine. I don’t read one book at a time. I chose from a pile. Actually two. One pile is next to the bed, the other by my favorite chair in the living room. When I curl up in either place, I peruse the nearest pile and pull out the book that is most appealing in that moment.  It could be poetry, it could be nonfiction. It could be the book I need to finish for book club next week or the one Dawn lent me that I promised to get back to her soon.  If a particular book stays in a pile too long, I take it as a sign that it should be put back on the shelf, returned to the owner or recycled in the bookstore.  Surprisingly the piles never get smaller.

Truth be told, on these snowy days I would rather read then look for venues. Once I am on the road – I am enthralled with the life of a traveling bookstore owner.  It’s this challenge though to explain to people hundreds of miles away about the very minimal needs of a traveling bookstore and the numerous benefits of having it set up right there where you can see it, come inside and smell the books.  I suspect they think it’s a flimflam operation. There was mention of a criminal background check by a municipality in Illinois.  A parking space and a wee bit of pavement is all I ask.  I truly don’t need much and look at all you get in exchange!  A van full of wonderful used books to brighten the lives of the citizens in your community.  An opportunity to try a manual typewriter with a fresh ribbon and to experiment with a solar-powered theremin.  Who wouldn’t want a traveling bookstore to set up on your tree lined street?  Or in a parking lot adjacent to your wonderful cafe/pub/restaurant/typewriter repair store?

Fortunately I can do both on this snowy afternoon. I send out a few emails, respond to questions (“Will you need to plug into power?” No. “Does your bookstore serve any food or beverages?” No.). Then I take a break in the red chair by the window, watch the snow fall and pull out a book that matches this moment.


Book clubs

It started when two Czech friends happened to visit around the time my local book club was going to meet.  The two young women had enough time (and enough English) to read the month’s selection and attend; A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and of course this group in Eureka does it up right. The woman who hosted the book club in September prepared a delicious Iranian meal.  We had a very good discussion and towards the end of the evening, one of the Czech women lamented it was too bad there weren’t book clubs like this in her country.  I felt surely there must be but when we did a cursory GooglIMG_1468e search as one tends to do when such questions are posed, we saw book clubs aren’t nearly the phenomena in the Czech Republic that they are in the US.

While looking at articles and such about book clubs in other places, I read about book clubs in the US, the millions of members and wide variety that have developed here over the years.  I realized this was a force to be considered.  Not that the demographics are identical across book clubs or even within book clubs. Actually it is one of the factors that makes the local book club here so awesome – we have a variety of political views, religions, ages and formal education, and yet we manage to have respectful discussions on all sorts of topics ranging from marriage to immigration to education to death.  There is a core element that keeps us meeting (this club started back in the mid 1990s!).  Perhaps its the thirst to learn, a love for reading and an interest in sharing ideas.

Recently while attending a Humanities Montana meeting, the idea was raised to find ways to exchange information across book clubs.  I realized this was a great idea but how many book clubs have a public presence to make something like this viable?  I began to ask around.  Most book clubs don’t even seem to have a name.  One woman who belongs to three clubs described them as the one that meets the first Tuesday and then there is the library one and….  And even with a name, how would they be contacted? In many ways this makes the phenomena of book clubs even more remarkable.  They aren’t often started by a formal entity although there are plenty that take place in libraries and bookstores.  They don’t usually have a name, tax ID number or even a web presence (some do seem to use Facebook for exchanging information).  So here is this significant group, millions and millions of readers according to some studies, who attend book clubs, who are able to hold civilized discussions and there isn’t an easy way to track them down.  Despite this, I believe book clubs make a significant difference.  Not only do they help book sales, they enhance communication in communities, they provide a vehicle for people to share stories and views.  They help us think and, yes, they give light on others’ points of view.