Life is not tidy

Where to begin? Here’s a sampling…

  • Hard to believe it’s been almost a month since my last post. The American Heartland Bookstore Tour 2023 was a wonder! So many great people along the way, adventures, new places discovered, delicious foods – and we did the entire tour out of a 2014 Subaru CrossTrek. I hope anyone who considered doing a traveling bookstore but thought they couldn’t do it without a van, now knows it can be done with a smallish car. You just have to have the upper body strength and a very good friend sharing the tour to help with loading/unloading boxes of books daily.
  • The van is fixed!!!! And the incredible mechanics who sorted it out said it will hold up for years so I’m already thinking where the traveling bookstore will adventure in 2024, 2025, …
  • Continuing this summer at all bookstore events, besides a selection of great used books, you can purchase ink made from guns. This ink, the man who makes it, and the process are all remarkable. If you do calligraphy, paint, or enjoy experimenting with dipping ink for drawing – you will be tempted. Read more about it here Thomas Little and A Rural Pen Inkworks.
  • And where are these bookstore events you might be asking? Most Wednesdays in the summer from 3:30pm – 6pm, catch the traveling bookstore at the Eureka (MT) Farmers Market. Most Thursdays, the bookstore is set up from 3:00pm – 6:30pm at the Farmers Market in Libby (MT). Then there are special events like the Pride Festival in Libby (MT) on July 8 from 11am – 6pm, the Backwoods Accordion Festival on July 22 from 2:00pm – 8:00pm in Trego (MT) at the Trego Pub and General Store, and the Lincoln County Fair in Eureka (MT) August 25 – 27. No doubt there will be others but this gets us started. We will certainly get up to the Yaak at least once.
  • A customer in Libby who bought a pile of books, said the thing he likes most about the traveling bookstore is the eclectic selection. He said it in such a positive way, the comment made my day.
  • I sent off a package with two letters and seven photos (actual printed photos – not the kind people show you on their phone) to Jan Svěrák, the Czech film director, encouraging him to make a film about the traveling bookstore. Get in touch with him if you happen to know the guy to say what a great idea this is. Thanks.
  • Someone recently told me they were surprised more people didn’t know about this eclectic traveling bookstore. It doesn’t surprise me because after all I am one person with a very average size van. But I am always ready to try new events, other places. All it takes is an invite to set up the traveling bookstore at a birthday party, a book club, a literary dinner or other festive affair. As well as at a cafe, pub, art gallery, etc. Drop me a line. Events outside of Montana are typically done during the spring or fall as part of a longer tour. In Montana, summer is a great time to suggest something.


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.

On the edge

Today should be the day I back the bookstore out of the driveway and head to Bozeman, the first stop on the American Heartland bookstore tour. And today gives me pause to reflect on many things about having a traveling bookstore, driving it from Montana to Mississippi on this trip, and all the people and places that are part of that journey. Another piece of today is waiting for a phone call from the mechanic letting me know the bookstore is road worthy.

Monday while having the pre-trip list checked off – oil change, tire pressure, windshield wiper fluid – Wade who does these things, told me he noticed a belt and a couple pulleys that needed to be replaced immediately. If I lived in an urban area, this might not have had the weight that living in Eureka, MT had when I heard this diagnosis. To the best of my knowledge, the closest Mercedes diesel mechanic is in Libby (75 miles away). Wade also told me he called around to auto parts shops in Eureka, and none had the parts I needed. They would have to be shipped overnight.

After four phone calls, I found a place in Eureka I had never heard of before. “Just call Rick,” one of the other mechanics in town told me. So I did. Steve answered the phone. Steve and Rick are the owners of Deep Creek Diesel. I explained the situation, and was told to bring the bookstore to their garage. The next hour involved Steve examining the van, and the two of them problem-solving the fastest way to get the best parts and get me on the road.

This all triggered two thoughts. First – does anyone with a brick-and-mortar bookstore write a blog about their harrowing adventures? If you know of any, please message me their name(s). It will provide a bit of comfort and solidarity as I travel through my bookselling world. The second thought was how much I enjoyed listening to the stories Rick and Steve told as we sat in their office.

Yes, getting a later-than-planned start means missing an event today in Bozeman (tour of the MTPBS studio), but I will trust that can be rescheduled. In the meantime, I found two good people who happen to be diesel mechanics and great storytellers. And when the bookstore is on the road, crossing the mountains, sailing across the plains, I’ll have confidence all parts are working well.

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.

Yes, the season

May this season bring you the joy of being with those you love, numerous new books to read, and the time to read them. At least in northwestern Montana, I’ve had the good fortune to read lots of good books these last few weeks. The weather has been white and chilly. Curled up inside with a cup of tea (or some evenings a glass of Buffalo Trace) while immersed in a book feels heavenly. When it gets dark around 4:30pm, it encourages getting absorbed in a good read and then all at once it is midnight. I know there are some who like to linger over a book, stretching it out over days if not weeks. But for me personally, my favorite way to savor a book is to read it in huge chucks so I forget everything and anything else going on, becoming one with the book.

The season so far has brought me some newer books as well as older ones. Not a quick read but one that sparked lots of conversations with others in my circle who have read it, is Nikole Hannah-Jones’s The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. I wish every school library had a copy. From 1619, I was pulled into The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, published in 1952 but could have been written in the last few years, as so much unfortunately hasn’t changed. A friend recommended Maryanne Wolf’s Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World but while waiting for that to come in through interlibrary loan, I was able to enjoy Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Is it any surprise that someone surrounded by books, as well as a retired teacher and currently obsessed with letterpress printing, would be fascinated by how alphabets were developed and the process of learning to read? Other recent books include The Last White Man by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, and Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry.

So now back to a bit of reading (currently the midmorning weather in northwest Montana is 7°F and snowing) and letterpress printing holiday cards. There are people who encourage me to take the traveling bookstore south in the winter, plying my wares at retirement communities in Arizona, but if I did that there just wouldn’t be these lovely stretches of time to read.

Seasonal shifts

In Montana, the snow has started and temperatures have dropped. All at once, any hint of summer clothes is gone and boots, scarves, mittens and heavy sweaters appear. The bookstore is parked until Spring. There are still some bookstore activities though. People drop books off, some locals stop by to buy books, occasional books gets mailed off, tshirts are sent out to fill requests, and, of course, there’s reading. Just finished a few remarkable ones including The Stone Sister by Montana author Caroline Patterson and Harry Josephine Giles’s sci-fi verse novel, Deep Wheel Orcadia. I find it curious how books come into our lives. So there I was within the same week enthralled by a novel spanning the mid to late 20th century, set in Montana, and a novel offered to the reader in both Orkney and English, set in outer space somewhere in the far future.

Besides the usual shift-into-winter activities for a traveling bookstore, there is the rather unusual flurry of publicity this season. You can imagine the perplexed reaction of this bookseller/owner/driver as people approach me smiling, “I saw you on The Kelly Clarkson Show!” And then, as a result of the show, there are emails and messages from people asking me about the bookstore and how they might start one. Where do I begin? I give disclaimers that I don’t have an MBA, didn’t really even have a business plan but just tried to keep my expenses low as I started this bookstore business. And the parts that I find most compelling about a traveling bookstore – the people I meet, the conversations, the places discovered – well, I am not entirely sure how to put all of that into an easy Stephen Covey formula.

I stress the need to be open to opportunities and experiences, to be willing to ask. To ask for a place to park and set up, to ask for a place to stay, to ask for directions, to ask for ideas, to ask for help, to ask for a reduction on fees at larger events because I’m not a food truck after all with long lines of people wanting to eat. It is a small bookstore carrying used books. And to not be afraid. I am not sure if its a result of this decade or the media or a cultural handicap, but too many people seem to focus on dangers. “Aren’t you afraid setting up in cities?” “You drive alone across country?!?” “How can you stay with people you’ve never met before?”

Of course, I’m cautious. I drive at or below the speed limit in the bookstore. I fill up before my fuel gauge gets down to the last quarter. I usually have multiple conversations (phone, email or texts) with the particular places I reach out to for setting up, and to the people I stay with. I don’t think any of my friends would describe me as a daredevil. I do see fear of the unknown as seriously hampering one’s life. Having done the traveling bookstore for eight years, and lived more then seven decades, I have some breadth of experiences and so for those of you thinking about starting a traveling bookstore or doing your own unique adventure of any sort, please don’t let fear hamper you.

The Hungarian Who Walked to Heaven by Edward Fox

Books by Dervla Murphy

My Journey to Lhasa by Alexandra David-Neel


Sturgis, South Dakota

Pocatello, ID

Heading west with a few more stops on the way home. Today setting up in Sturgis at Red’s Grill. Something of a snafu as Red’s changed their schedule recently due to staffing shortages. I was scheduled to set up there all day but with the restaurant closed, and after speaking with the owner, I decided to open just in the morning and hope for the best. Red’s kindly put out info about the traveling bookstore on their social media so I hope to get customers.

Then into Montana! The bookstore sets up in White Sulphur Springs (population 979) at the public library on Wednesday. I’ve been there before and it was a treat – both getting to hang at the library between customers and then the customers who came to the bookstore. The last time I was there with the bookstore, I remember intense wind all day that felt totally disconcerting. But now coming from Brookings where the bookstore nearly blew away, I think I am adapting to the plains and the weather on this side of the Rockies.

There is so much I want to tell you. And I want to share the depth I feel. Often I’m overwhelmed with the stories and the individuals, the spaces where I set up the bookstore and the sense of place. So I find myself offering lists that don’t capture much but I do want to give you an idea of the scope of these tours.

Traveling the way I do not only affords opportunities to set up in a variety of interesting places (from a brew pub in Pocatello, ID to an art studio in Lincoln, NE; the book festival in Brookings to Red’s Grill here in Sturgis), but it also gives me an opportunity to see friends and meet new people as typically I stay in households while on the road. Alan and Bonnie in Pocatello walked me around the neighborhood, telling me about architecture, stories of people who have lived there, the texture of the town which Alan’s family had been part of for generations. Christiane in Salt Lake City graciously introduced me to her friends who, like Christiane, relocated from France to Utah as young adults. It felt like international travel to have dinner with them – delicious food, long conversations encouraged by bottles of wine, French and English interchanged, no hesitation to bring up politics.

In Denver I had three days with Connie who gave me a glimpse of life in a 55+ community – the camaraderie, the laughter over pool volleyball, the thoughtfulness with one person dropping off a loaf of zucchini bread to us, another bringing me a bag of books. The sense of people having time to listen to each other, offers to help out. And Connie worked the bookstore with me both days that I was in Denver (what a treat!), and then helped me navigate Denver streets/traffic with the bookstore so we could pick up dinner from what is considered the city’s best Thai restaurant.

Lincoln, NE was an opportunity to stay with Hana and her family. Hana and I were colleagues at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. Now I drive a traveling bookstore around the country and Hana leads Czech Studies at the university in Lincoln. Besides snippets of conversations with her two daughters and husband amidst their flurry of school, work and swim classes, Hana invited me to one of her classes to engage with her students – answer their questions about my life, and ask my own about theirs. Hana recommended the Sheldon Museum of Art at the university which was the perfect place to spend an hour when temps were heading to 100 degrees F. She also told me about the International Quilt Museum which was another treat to take in on this trip.

In Brookings, I stayed with a couple whom I hadn’t met before but we immediately found numerous topics to discuss, ideas to share. Of course, I was in Brookings to set up at the book festival which meant long days, but the moment I returned to Phyllis and Jihong‘s house, we would dive in where we had left all.

Before this trip, I had not seriously considered spending much bookstore travel time in the Great Plains and now, as I head back to Montana, I already think about when I might return.

Here’s the scoop

September 11: Portneuf Valley Brewery in Pocatello, ID 12 – 6pm

September 12 & 13: King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, UT 10 – 6pm

September 16 & 17: Fiction Beer in Denver, CO 2pm – 7:30pm

September 19: Barista’s Daily Grind (downtown location) in Kearney, NE 7am – 2pm

September 20: Constellation Studios in Lincoln, NE 2pm – 6pm

September 21: Lux Center for Arts in Lincoln, NE noon – 6pm

September 23-25: South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings, SD (following festival schedule)

September 26: Red’s Grill in Sturgis, SD 9am – 3pm

September 28: Public library in White Sulphur Springs, MT 10am – 4pm

Yes, I am the owner/driver of the bookstore and I REALLY hope not one more person asks me, “Do you drive that all by yourself?”

Yes, I often travel alone on these trips. Sometimes a friend or two will join up for portions of a trip, but it is unusual for me to have a passenger for an entire bookstore tour of this length. Not opposed to it – most people though seem to like to experience the traveling bookstore business for a few days or a week, but longer than that seems grueling (except to me). I personally like the rhythm of longer bookstore tours.

I have space in the back of the bookstore for about six boxes of extra book stock. I get books along the way (for example, Beth in Denver has already sent a photo of books she is holding for me there). I have never run out of books even on longer tours. No idea why it works this way, but it always has.

I have been doing the traveling bookstore business for eight years now and don’t remember any unpleasant interactions with customers. There have been a few mechanical issues with the van, but people drawn to a traveling bookstore tend to be very nice. In fact I am adding a few more chairs on this upcoming trip so folks have a place to sit if they want to have longer conversations.

Why not commit?

As a bibliophile, I am enamored with books as well as with words. I obviously enjoy reading and I also enjoy listening to people; someone talking where I can watch their face, ask questions about anything that is unclear, and process their choice of vocabulary. It can be someone who stops by the traveling bookstore that I’m meeting for the first time, or a long-time friend coming from another city to visit, or chatting with a waitress at a cafe. I listen to what they are saying, and also listen to what words they chose to use.

There are time periods when I notice certain words or phrases seem to pop up more often. Back in May 2020, I wrote a post about the phrase, “I’m being careful” because it seemed whoever I talked with during those months used that phrase at least once in justifying their choice around wearing masks, sheltering, social distancing. Now let’s fast forward to the last few weeks when the current phrase I seem to hear repeatedly is, “I just don’t want to commit to that.”

Now of course, it is perfectly reasonable that I might be paying attention to that phrase, that it really isn’t being used more often than normal. Maybe I am sensitized to it by some quirk. Or maybe it truly is being used more often in Autumn 2021 for a reason that isn’t clear yet. I suppose if I was handier with analytics and algorithms, I could discern the difference. But I am going to just leave it at me recently hearing people use that particular sentence often.

Typically someone says it when I’ve asked if they would like to do some volunteer work in the community. They preface their response by reassuring me that they very much support the Animal Shelter or the local museum or the arts organization, but this rousing cheer for the organization is then followed by their polite refusal to help because, they “don’t want to commit.” It appears to be used in a similar way when someone is asked if they could help with the seemingly out of control political situation in Montana at this point in time. Asked to serve on a committee, or do a training to canvas, or sign up to make comments to a commission, and yes, of course, the individual wants to see things improve, wants to be part of the solution, wants to get out there to help, but right now….”I just can’t commit to that.”

Obviously we each typically commit to many things. We commit to a job, to raising our kids in the best possible way. We commit to a marriage, to friendships. We probably commit to shoveling our front walk in the winter and keeping the grass mowed in summer. We commit to paying bills, to making sure there is food in the refrigerator, to our sports team, to showing up for the weekly yoga class. So it isn’t commitment that is the dilemma. It is somehow the particular commitment of volunteer work, or civic engagement that seems to trigger the response.

In case you feel the urge to suggest a book that addresses this, yes, please do. I am certainly open to ideas on this. I’ve read some but none have really given me an answer that fits. It doesn’t seem to be a generational stigma as I’ve gotten this response from people in high school and from people in their eighties. It isn’t part of any rural/urban divide or socioeconomic that I can tell – friends in cities and in my small town have told it to me. And I should pause here with a huge shout out to all of you who do make commitments, who do show up to help out. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Perhaps you are wondering how this tirade has anything to do with books. Because keeping a local school board from banning books is a commitment. Supporting local libraries in numerous ways is a commitment. Becoming a volunteer tutor, helping at an elementary school, getting books to inmates – all commitments. All opportunities just waiting for you to show up.

Small but mighty

Although St. Rita’s Amazing Traveling Bookstore (and Textual Apothecary) is small in size, a 132″ wheelbase, high top Sprinter van carrying about six hundred volumes when packed, it has potential. Not only does it set up in all sorts of places in the US from Montana to New York City, from Minneapolis to Asheville, from Baltimore to San Francisco, it also touches places outside the continental US as well. Partially this is a result of travelers who just happen upon the bookstore. A woman, whose family came from the Czech Republic, discovered us recently in Portland. A couple who are NY bookstore owners, the woman is Polish and the man American, happened upon the traveling bookstore when it set up at a farmers market in Montana this past summer. And partially it is a result of individuals who actually traveled with the bookstore, taking away fond memories and spreading the word. Nada helped with the traveling bookstore’s first long trip from Portland to New York. Jana joined up on another trip, starting in Indianapolis and traveled along through Smiths Grove, KY, a number of gigs in North Carolina, W. Virginia and back across to Montana. Ya’aqov was with the bookstore on a trip that included a N. Dakota blizzard. So I suppose it isn’t a surprise when Nada, who is now a librarian in Kvasice, Czech Republic, posted photos of the traveling bookstore on her library’s bulletin board. Or when I received a photo from St. Rita’s Church in Krakow, Poland. The photo served as a reminder that St. Rita is the Patroness of Difficult and Impossible Cases.

I am certainly willing to accept there are difficult cases. I am not quite ready to allow myself to see things as impossible. In an interview discussing her latest book, Orwell’s Roses, Rebecca Solnit said, “I never describe myself as an optimist. An optimist is someone who thinks things will be all right no matter what. It is the flip side of being a pessimist, which means thinking everything will be bad no matter what. What I am is hopeful. Being hopeful means there are possibilities, but it is up to us to seize them and make something of them.”

And yes, seizing opportunities to do something is so necessary in these times, as opposed to sitting back wringing one’s hands lamenting the state of the world, or leaning over glasses of beer with like-minded people lambasting those rotten politicians, or sheltering behind the screen posting worn out memes.

There are moments when I wonder how a small (although far-flung) bookstore can make a difference, but then while on the road conversations are sparked or new relationships formed, and I realize there is hope. Sometimes I worry how rural communities that persist in ignoring public health guidelines will survive our current times. Yet enough people speak up, show up, write letters to make a difference, to give me hope.

Fortunately the traveling bookstore has a Patroness who helps with hard situations. Perhaps if each of us seize those possibilities to do something, then we never need to reach the impossible.

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison