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.





‘Tis the season where trees even here in northwest Montana change colors.  The larch shift to a yellow brilliance, the mountain ash offers orange berries and red willows shine in the valley.  The traveling bookstore just returned from the Montana Book Festival which was an astonishing event.  The drive between Eureka and Missoula was a wonderful opportunity to see the IMG_1506season’s foliage while the festival itself delighted in so many ways.  New authors and already famous ones shared words and ideas.  There was an opportunity to see a vintage bookmobile from the Missoula library and to talk with numerous bookstore owners.  There was art and art openings, music and poetry.  There were hipsters and seasoned bibliophiles.  There were MFA students and rappers.  Jane Smiley inspired me to write more and Donna Kaz inspired me to work harder for social change.

As often happens, there were discussions about the traveling bookstore.  How did the idea originate?  How many states has it been to?  Is it successful?  I found that last question thought provoking as it pushed me to consider what success would be for this enterprise, a traveling bookstore that can easily set up anywhere selling used books, offering kids a chance to type on a manual typewriter and others an opportunity to try out a theremin.  One man immediately set down his coffee and briefcase although he seemed to be in a rush because, as he put it, “I’ve always dreamed of playing a theremin!”.  Or Caroline Patterson who took to the theremin instantly and I wondered if it had to do with her name as Carolina Eyck is a theremin virtuoso.  But these are all tangents, an indication of how full and varied the Montana Book Festival was over the three days.  Now back in Eureka, the question about success still sits there unanswered.

Can the answer be framed in monetary terms?  When the traveling bookstore starts bringing in x amount of dollars, it will have achieved success.  Or is it the quantity of social media  – how many likes on Facebook or followers on Instagram?  Perhaps success for the bookstore should be measured in personal terms such as the amount of satisfaction gained from having discussions while set up in Missoula or Portland or Eureka or Rock Island.  Or as someone said, “As long as you enjoy doing it, keep it up.”  As always, there is the sense that if I had just done a business plan before diving into this, I would know how to measure success.

I am continually surprised by the number of people who indicate that they would like to have a traveling bookstore but the stars just don’t align.  They don’t have the time or don’t like being gone from home.  Or they would never consider driving this thing in San Francisco or New York.  I do feel fortunate to have the opportunity to be the driver/owner of this particular bookstore.  And perhaps success – or at least the meaning of it in the case of this traveling bookstore – will manifest over time.  Like life.  As Aristotle pointed out, “One swallow does not make a spring, nor does one sunny day; similarly, one day or a short time does not make a person blessed and happy.”  Perhaps it is something to consider in the business of a traveling bookstore as well.


Book festivals and more

This weekend is the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Although the traveling bookstore will remain parked at home, I will go to work the Montana booth at that festival representing Humanities Montana.  It’s an opportunity to tell people about the wonderful writers we have here, to lure them to read Judy Blunt’s Breaking Clean, Debra Magpie Earling’s Perma Red, Craig Lancaster’s 600 Hours of Edward, Pete Fromm’s Indian Creek Chronicles and so many more. girls readingIt’s a chance to let people know there is a rich literary tradition in a state that stretches across expanses of plains, forests and mountains.  Montana also has many talented writers under the big sky.

Then at the end of September the Montana Book Festival happens. The traveling bookstore will be there as one of many events including panels, readings, poetry slams, and of course, the infamous Pie & Whiskey at the Union Club on September 28.  I suppose my deep appreciation of these book festivals is akin to sports fans going to a tournament.  Its a rush to be surrounded by so many people who enjoy books and who want to read.  And, as often readers are good storytellers, I will surely get to hear some wonderful stories while at the huge Convention Center in Washington and when set up with the traveling bookstore on the streets of Missoula.

It is part of having this traveling bookstore business that I surely appreciate – the stories that people share (or hint at). Last weekend with the traveling bookstore at the Lincoln County Fair, a young boy typed a story about his pig.  In reality the pig was being auctioned at the fair and then sent to the butcher’s.  In the boy’s story, the pig had many adventures, being recognized for its cognitive abilities and bravery rather than its meat.  A girl with a Wonder Woman symbol painted on her face stopped to look at books and type.  She wrote a long story which she said was private, typing, going off for ice cream, coming back to type more. She did an entire page before pulling the paper out with a flair and heading back into fair activities, the page neatly folded and secure in the back pocket of her jeans.  And then there was the older gent who was searching for Louis L’Amour books.  Yes, there were a few in stock at the traveling bookstore, but he knew so much about Louis L’Amour that we eventually sat down so I could hear the full biography.  Stories and books.  Yes, definitely looking forward to the upcoming festivals.



We are nearly there

Yes, there is still snow in the mountains but spring is here. The lilac bushes are slowly starting to get buds.  I heard there are crocus blooming although I haven’t seen any myself, and the season’s first event has been scheduled for April 22: Books, Bread and Beer as its the traveling bookstore, Yvonne’s Simply Sourdough and of course the mighty HA beers all at HA Brewery oIMG_0931n Grave Creek Rd.  Other events are starting to get sorted from a couple great times promised in the Yaak (June 17 and July 15) to an appearance in Tacoma, WA, the Montana Book Festival in Missoula, Eureka Farmers Market and others that are still taking shape.  Once the summer schedule is set I will certainly let you know.

For now it is enough that the snow is gone, people are thinking of gardens and I am taking the bookstore out on the road. The winter has been too long but now I am ready to put in piles of books I accumulated this winter, make a new sign (left the last one in Rock Island, IL at an event last September), and load up the typewriter.  And this season will be very special as I am quitting my day job to put more time into having the bookstore on the road.  A shift but I think sixty-five and a half is the perfect age for this sort of adventure. I can still manage those boxes of books,  drive a long day when needed and enjoy talking to just about anyone who shows up.

Coming home

Do it.  That is what often comes to my mind.  When I realized I couldn’t make a go of a brick-and-mortar bookstore in a rural town (pop. 1,037) I began a traveling bookstore. When someone passing through Montana last summer suggested I take the bookstore to the Brooklyn Book Festival, I applied to beProcessed with MOLDIV a vendor.  So now here I am on the other side of that particular adventure.  Drove out of Eureka, MT September 12 and returned September 24.  In between those dates the bookstore covered over five thousand miles – about eight thousand kilometers.  The distances and changing landscapes were significant but the people are what remain with me today.

People who stopped by the bookstore often had encouraging remarks. “This is utterly cool!”  “Oh my god this is what I have always dreamed of doing!”  “You are right – this is amazing!”  There was the Canadian man who seriously wants to start one and I really hope he does.  There is the young woman in Missoula who took photos of the interior of the bookstore to send her dad so he can help her create her own traveling bookstore.  There was Walker whom I met along the way. He is just starting out with a small traveling bookstore and we hugged, feeling we are surely related.

I talked with people who are transitioning in their lives. Don at eighty-eight is thinking of retiring from the summer theater he began running decades ago.  Deb will end her university job next year and might become a docent at the art museum.  A woman who moved to Missoula two years ago, can’t find a comfortable place in that community so is looking where she will move next.  Esther at eighty-two is exploring how to kayak on her own in upstate New York. Kory is taking off for central Europe to explore Romania and Slovakia while he remains in good health. The waitress at the bar in Mitchell, SD has lived in that town her whole life and is ready to move elsewhere.

Kindnesses were graciously given.  Sarah made delicious home-cooked meals although we could only stop to visit in Bozeman for a few hours going and coming. The man who fixed the blown tire in the middle of nowhere suggested a good place to buy a new one in Kadoka, SD.  The guy at J & S squeezed us in so we could get back on the road as soon as possible.  Don and Tweet from WVIK in Rock Island, IL donated books as did Ya’aqov in Urbana. The volunteers at the Brooklyn Book Festival helped us navigate a great place for the traveling bookstore to set up. Lisa and Jason were wonderful Missoula hosts when the bookstore set up in front of Radius Gallery.  Annette made us feel welcome when we set up by Cool Beanz in Illinois. Jenny talked life and whiskey, shared empanadas, and wowed me with her poetry and art.

Henry is a nine year old who typed for at least an hour by the bookstore while his dad drank coffee patiently.  A woman let her two little girls play in the bookstore which was a delightful reprieve from serious literary conversations at the Brooklyn festival.  One man explained to me the traveling bookstore is a pop-up business but didn’t elaborate whether this was a good thing or not.

I am sure changes will manifest from this experience.  Nada talks of starting a book club in Kvacice.  Melissa is going to put together a chapbook of her poetry. Jenny might give a writing workshop in Eureka.  Anthony and I discussed a bookstore exchange – he would run my bookstore for a month while I ran his in Antigua, Guatemala. Lots of ideas and new connections.  And all those individuals who intersected along the way.  Yes, definitely do it.







Between trips

As a former teacher, I am a fan of reflection. You do something and then  you take a bit of time to reflect on it.  In education, this makes perfect sense. Its valuable for both teachers and students to spend time thinking abimg_2280out what happened, how things went before going on to the next step.  Having just returned from taking the traveling bookstore to Portland, I want to reflect before setting out for New York and the Brooklyn Book Festival (we will also set up in Rock Island, IL on 9/15 and at the Montana Book Festival 9/22-24).

Astounded. Surprised. Mystified. These are the words that come to mind when I think about driving the bookstore to Portland, setting up on N. Lombard in front of Ace Typewriter, spending time with friends over dinner and early morning coffee, setting up near Hollywood Fred Meyers, talking with David at Passages Bookshop and the folks at Mother Foucault’s including Charlie and Craig.  Nada wanted to go to Powell’s so we did that as well and marveled at the families filling tiny tables in the children’s books section. More conversations over Thai food with friends and that evening.  Some talk reflected on the books we had been reading – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, The Plover by Brian Doyle, A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Some talk was about aging and some about dying, some about community and making choices about where to live, how to live. Some about the physics of the earth’s rotation and some about love. There were new people we met like Ethan and Jennifer and Roz and Steve who each stopped by long enough to exchange stories, learn names.  A young woman typed a poem at the bookstore before racing across the street to catch her bus. An older woman with two grandchildren bought some children’s books and when paying, told us to keep the change which amounted to a lot.  Although we didn’t sell enough books to cover the trip, we came back richer in knowledge, relationships, perspectives.  In trying to explain the traveling bookstore to city people, I decided it is an experiment.

I appreciated people lingering at the bookstore as I thought people in the city might just buy a book and rush away.  It is great Matt at Ace Typewriter has so much business but I wish he would give a workshop so typewriter novices could maintain their own machines. I learned people like to take photos of the traveling bookstore but then what happens to those photos? Many people don’t seem to like that Portland is growing although Nada and I enjoyed the urban milieu during our few days there. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I returned with questions that I won’t sit long enough to find answers for before taking off for New York.  Maybe the drive across will provide us time to explore the questions as well as I 90.



Still learning

boardersJust back from the Montana Book Festival.  There were quiet moments on Friday when I sat next to the bookstore reading (Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard; Thank You for Not Reading by Dubravka Ugrešić) and writing. Saturday was full blown though with book festival people stopping by and people who were going to the farmers market across the street stopping by. There were two girls whose parents sold vegetables talking with me about books as they munched on tomatoes. And the kind woman whose husband had a booth at the book festival; she watched the bookstore for a moment while I ran to the market to buy a pumpkin. A guy with a dog said he had been living in the hotel for three months while doing construction and bought the biography of Sir Edmund Hillary. A woman who came by asked her young son if there was any book that he needed.  At first he said no but then changed his mind.  After buying an old Hardy Boys book, he showed me his watch which was designed for spies and very impressive. Saturday was encouraging. It is what I want the bookstore to be. Friday gave me pause and i mentioned my worries to a friend. He sees the traveling bookstore not as a business but as an art project that I am doing to promote reading. I disagree although defining art is beyond the scope of this post. I don’t think of the bookstore as an art project though. I think of it as a life project.  One of those projects that an individual is very fortunate to be able to undertake even when it is filled with challenging moments.  Two individuals said to me Saturday that they wish they could have a traveling bookstore. Both times, I answered that they could. Both responded that they couldn’t.  I was reminded of my friend Bernice Ende who is a long rider. And Peace Pilgrim. We each undertake the challenges, the paths that we want, that we truly want. And I hope that each of us has the fortitude to stick with it.