there are so many

There are places. There are books – those read and those to be read. There are people. And as you can imagine on a bookstore tour of this length, there are many people. Ideally I would have a free day after every bookstore event to note down at least a bit about each person I speak with. But it doesn’t work that way and so there are scribbled notes in my pocket, individuals I think about while driving, a business card someone gave me. Here is a small sampling because although I am completely enamored with books and reading, people are a vital part of why I do the bookstore. I wish I could write about everyone I meet along the way. I wish I could write about you.

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Tony. The bookstore set up in front of Luminous Brewhouse in Sheridan. A woman with three children and the woman’s mother crowd inside pulling children’s books off the shelves, the mother setting book-buying limits, the grandmother asking how I ever started this unusual business. And Tony walked up, noticed the chaos inside the bookstore. We started talking about Mihaly Csikszentmihaly‘s flow, about veterans hospitals, about real books and e-books. He mentioned having hundreds of books on his phone. I winced. But can you lend a friend a book if it is on your phone? We talked about balance. I took a deep breath.

Al. A tall thin man in an old green station wagon drove slowly pass the bookstore when it was set up in the parking lot of Jambonz Grill in Sturgis. He turned his car around, came back, parked next to the bookstore, unfolded himself from the car and asked, “What is this?” Turned out Al was a book dealer. He took books to shows all over the region, told me that gun shows were the best if you had the right books. After we talked for a while about books, bookselling and politics, he looked through my paltry inventory (compared to his) and found a couple volumes. Then he left promising to come back. A half hour later he did, with two boxes of books to donate, books he felt suited my bookstore but weren’t selling in his business. We talked some more.

Iowa City, Iowa. A dark rainy morning. Street construction. A tiny parking lot. I settle the van and go inside Hamburg Inn No. 2 for a great breakfast of pumpkin pancakes. Seth introduces himself. We had corresponded when I planned the stops on this trip. We talk about the restaurant which is famous in these parts. We talk about the traveling bookstore business. Later when I am outside and the rain has let up, Seth comes out to check how things are going, as though he is my guardian angel on this dreary morning. Customers eventually stop by the bookstore. The lunch crowd shows up at the restaurant. It was a very good day all around.

I never got her name. Stopping in Kadoka, South Dakota to mail letters, I asked the postal worker where I might get a cup of coffee. He pointed to Pocketful of Posies, the florist shop across the street so I went over there. The woman apologized when I walked in for the buckets of flowers everywhere. There were two funerals coming up. She made me coffee. She let me use her restroom. She told me about the young girl who had been hit by a car. About the older man who had died. She never stopped moving, arranging flowers, answering the phone, talking with two men who came in to drop some metal pieces off for the display that would honor their friend.

Deb retired after years working at a university in Rock Island, Illinois. She then embraced volunteering in a wondrous way. She is learning so much about art as a docent at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. She mesmerized me with stories about the current Mia Feuer exhibit, about how a particular piece of art was constructed, about another artist’s life. She also volunteers with a local hospice. She learned to knit so as she sits with people, she creates a calm rhythm. Often I encourage people to volunteer as a way of helping their community. Deb discovered another reason to volunteer – to continue to grow.

There’s reading and there’s writing

The sun hits my face. The rude nudge wakes me. I wonder why I slept late into the morning as the sun comes through an upper window of the front door. And why did I fall asleep on the sofa? Wait. It’s not morning. It’s afternoon. I took a nap. My mind adjusts to the mayhem of time. The original waking thought of morning and coffee tumbles into late afternoon. I need to start dinner.Processed with MOLDIV

Writing is like that. A sharp awakening with ideas barely focused but a need for sentences to take shape. Then a realization it’s not what I thought. It’s suddenly something different. Don’t think about putting coffee on, because it’s dinner time.

Actually it’s more complicated than that. When you go to a doctor’s appointment with the flu, you’re asked the ridiculously basic question, how do you feel? You have no idea where to start. The list is too long. Of course there’s an idea of what the story is about or the arch of that essay. There is that first sentence, which needs to be spot on. The specific words, the pacing, the rhythm – you want readers to catch everything. Is the tone exactly right or does it sound so pathetic it conveys the writing of a fourth grader?

Is there an incantation that works with writing? Some spell uttered before putting that first word down? Or an image to hold clearly in mind that will manifest on the page? Or is it simply the advice given when asked how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

Readers naively assume words adhere to the page. Each word neatly placed in an orderly fashion remains fixed forever. Words build into sentences and sentences into paragraphs exactly like a child’s Lego set.  Sharp corners, straight edges. Writers know this isn’t so. Words slip and slide between lines, sneak into another sentence. And it’s not just words that are difficult to cement correctly. There is punctuation, tricky commas and the godawful challenge of semicolons. You finally go to bed thinking you have every letter and possible dot where it needs to be, only to find under dark of night that everything shifts into a mess that needs to be tackled. Again. And again.

Corralling words is just the beginning. Even if you manage to string them into a readable structure, it’s not enough. As though you managed to put a skeleton together but still need muscles, tendons, organs, nerves, and skin. And don’t forget toenails. Eyebrow. Anyone can read a list of words but you want readers to leave with ideas they didn’t have before that first sentence. You want the flow of words to get under and lift them into unimaginable realms of towering clouds and swirling galaxies. Or pull them through a whale’s baleen to be carried into the darkest sea.

How to transform words, letter strings to draw emotions? You endeavor to use writing magic to twist hearts, release tears. You want your story to be a whisper in every reader’s dreams. Because the story came from every reader’s dream. It is a piece of the genetic code everyone had from birth, yet may not realize it is part of their life until they read your story. An important part of life across times and place, captured by a hand print in a cave, submerged with Atlantis, seen from the Apollo. The reader’s breath changes with the words, the heartbeat quickens. You want readers to sigh heavily as they turn the final page. You want the publisher to suggest having a packet of tissues in the back of each book.

Tides of books

They come and they go.  Last week when I got home after a long day, someone (no note to indicate who) had left eight boxes of books piled in my living room. My first reaction was dismay at having to schlep the boxes into the garage but I quickly smiled at such a bountiful gift.  And the boxes contained such treasures: Ivan Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair and anIMG_4462 amazing children’s book, The Three Questions by Jon Murth. And yes, this is part of the business model of this particular traveling bookstore.  Books come to me seemingly out of nowhere.  And then I try to get them to the right people.

Sometimes there are transactions that supersede books. The man who traded  homegrown organic garlic for a book.  The woman who in exchange for a children’s book gave me a complete set of Mozart CDs . Regardless if it is books left on my doorstep or trades with non-book items, the books come and go.  The bookstore stays stocked as it travels to the farmers market or a summer festival or just to open its doors in someone’s driveway for a small gathering.  The amazement is that the cyclic nature continues and seemingly without too much effort.  A box of books appear, I sort through them, put a few on the shelves and the next day someone picks up one of those very books and says, “This is exactly what I was looking for!” The garlic gets used in an Italian recipe for dinner guests. The CDs are taken along as an item to sell at the Yaak Music Festival.

There is a sense within all of this that reminds me of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s flow.  Its effortless but full.  Dare I say it requires right intention? Or really no intention but gratitude for the books (and garlic) that appear and the readers who discover the books they need.