This is a stretch. I hope you bear with me. It does have to do with books. Actually one book I’m finishing up to enter into the Lincoln County Fair (MT) tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day when entries have to be dropped off at the fair grounds before 8:00pm and so, of course, I am trying to get my entries completed tonight (plus get the bookstore in order as the bookstore will set up at the fair for the next three days while I hawk books and talk with people about community).
But this evening the focus is on completing the items I want to enter into the fair: two pieces of art, an artist book, and two floral arrangements. It is the artist book that pushed me to write this.
Baltimore. It must have been 2019. I was staying in Washington, DC as I rendezvoused with a good friend there. Such a good friend that she was willing to schlep over to Baltimore so I could visit the American Visionary Art Museum and go to LP Steamers for hard crabs. Those of you familiar with Baltimore will hopefully understand what an incredible gift that was. And it was! Except for being slightly too hot – and we didn’t have a car so we walked from the museum to LP Steamers.
After an amazing time eating hard crabs, we figured out how to get back to DC which meant catching transportation near a small strip mall. We were waiting there, trying to stand in the shade when a guy rode up on his bike. Parked his bike, went into the cafe, and while he was in there getting something to go – the tire on his bike blew. My immediate thought was the guy would come up, see his ruined tire and assume we vandalized it. But that wasn’t the case. He came out. We told him we had nothing to do with it but the tire was flat. He quickly pulled out a very tiny kit that had everything he needed to replace the tube. While he worked on it, we managed to have a conversation about where we were from and where he was from, and Baltimore (which we both liked) and, because back at the place where we were staying in DC, I had started making an artist book but needed something like thread to hold it together – I asked if I could have the trashed tube. He said yes. We said good bye and that was that.
I did finish that particular book when we got back to DC and gave it to the woman who inspired it. The tube sliced very thin worked perfectly for binding. And now – here we are some years later and I am trying to figure out how to bind the current book (The Saga of a Typewriter That Became a Piano Accordion) and remembered the tube that was partially left. Surprisingly, I found it and finished my county fair entry, although engulfed by memories of that day – the conversations with my friend, the hot city streets, savoring hard crabs piled on brown paper on the table, and the man with the bike. All of this somehow seems to be part of my county fair entry. I hope the bike guy knows what an impression he made.
As the owner/driver of a traveling bookstore, you might expect me to be all about selling books. And I certainly do put lots of energy into that. Spent last weekend going through the storage area pulling out the best books to get the season started. Replenished the stock in the traveling bookstore with titles I have no doubt will bring customers an abundance of joy. But today, blame it on the Spring weather or too much time spent going through those other boxes of books that no one seems to want, I’m focusing on how you can make your own book(s). That’s just how my mind is working at the moment.
I think of book making as having two parts. There is the text or illustrations or whatever you envision your book containing. And then there is the container itself – what actually holds your story or poems or essays or dreams together. For simplicity’s sake, let’s just call it the Inner and the Outer. I am not going to dwell on the Inner today. There is entirely too much that could be part of that as well as dealing with how you see yourself as a writer or an illustrator, your reaction to a clean white page, whether you feel your art or writing is worthy to be bound. Of course, it is possible to make a blank book – a book that only has empty pages as its Inner which you can gift to a friend or give to a child to draw in. That can work. Thus for the moment, we will skip the Inner piece and focus on the Outer.
Perhaps you have an image of a book with a front cover, a back cover, a spine, the title and author’s name. Rather straight forward and you can certainly put together such a book. But I hope you realize there are umpteen other ways to craft the Outer part of a book. It can be folded like an accordion or even be an accordion! Have you thought of a film canister repurposed as a book (assuming the Inner is written on film)? It might be a seashell with your story curled up inside or intriguing bottles holding a delicious mystery. Peter and Donna Thomas create stunning books using musical instruments as the Outer part. Julie Chen makes all sorts of books that will have you drooling. Perhaps if you have more time, look at the creations of M.L.Van Nice, another amazing book artist. Please don’t get discouraged by these individuals who have put years into crafting unusual books. Don’t think of making a book as daunting. Use a matchbox or stitch sheets of brown paper together. Start basic and grow. And, of course, there are all sorts of guides out there to help you get started.
The Book as Art by Krystyna Wasserman
Creative Bookbinding by Pauline Johnson
The Pocket Paper Engineer by Carol Barton (volumes 1 & 2)
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.
I am not going to suggest books to you. I learned a while back that doesn’t work unless we are standing (or sitting) within a comfortable distance of each other having a conversation. I might ask what you enjoy reading. You might mention some particular titles. I would get excited because I also just read one of those and it reminded me of another that you might like as well. It is personal. Its not Amazon. Its you and me discussing books, discussing authors, discussing ideas, discussing our travels and experiences and how I ended up owning a traveling bookstore and how you ending up living in Montana or Idaho or Illinois or Alabama.
This time of year gets even trickier as people want to buy books for friends or relatives, the kid across the street or a woman at work. “Do you think my eleven year old nephew would enjoy this book?” I don’t know. I would certainly enjoy meeting your eleven year old nephew and finding out what he likes. I can’t really say though what any generic eleven year old boy might be interested in though. Let’s talk.
But I am glad that you are shopping at this particular bookstore, at this somewhat local business, at this small business. I am happy that even when you had choices of box stores and online opportunities, you decided to track down this particular traveling bookstore and buy used books to make that gift even more special. I can’t give you an easy answer for which book to buy for that rambunctious nephew or even the older woman who takes care of your cat when you are away. I will talk books and people with you. I might suggest this or that title. There are times when I might even suggest making your own book for a very special person. There’s a typewriter and paper in the bookstore and some books that explain bookbinding. Bookstore owner and a facilitator – perhaps I should put that on my business card.
Special thanks go out with this post to: 1) Peggy Jane who has the beautiful smile in the photo. A gem of a friend. And 2) to La Două Bufniţe, a wondrous bookstore I found in Timisoara, RO. If you are ever in that area, stop by (https://www.facebook.com/ladouabufnite).
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.
I had originally thought that a traveling bookstore would be a way for me to take books to various places to sell. But now I feel that it is actually just a piece of something bigger as obviously I do like traveling and I do very much like books. So it is not that the idea of a traveling bookstore just popped into my head one day, but that I had a long inclination for travel and reading. The bookstore is just one manifestation of that. Having decided to visit S.Korea, a place that I hadn’t been before but heard great things about, I began researching into what sort of bookbinding workshops might be available. That made sense to me because I certainly wasn’t going to learn to read Korean in a few weeks, but I could learn something about making books while there. And thanks to the Internet, I discovered Bo Young Lee, a remarkable young woman who trained in France and is now experimenting wth a fusion of East and West in the books she creates. She has an atelier in Seoul where I spent a day making a book under her tutelage and talking with her about all sorts of things. She explained the challenges of starting this rather unusual business in Seoul. I told her about the traveling bookstore in Montana. She obviously has a passion for making books. I obviously have a passion for helping to get books to the masses. We shared a delightful lunch and parted knowing despite the thousand of miles between Seoul and Eureka, we surely had made a connection.