Hands

I assume we all are multi-tasking at a new level these days physically, emotionally, economically. A parent tries to work while supervising children who are learning at home. How many people weigh a job that puts them at risk against inadequate unemployment benefits? Individuals strive to shelter in place, yet are committed to protesting injustice. Teachers juggle working with students in classrooms and students online. We are urged to be kind and to breathe deeply during these wild times of a pandemic and political turmoil. Yet we know we can’t be silent, we must do more than smile. We need to step up. We need to lend a hand.

Two books of photographs came through my house on their way to the traveling bookstore. One features photos mainly of hands by Eve Arnold, a book I’ve always admired. We do so much with our hands from holding a baby, to pulling a trigger, fixing an engine to threading a needle, butchering a pig to shaping steel. Arnold’s book is remarkable in all the lives she captures, the depths that are revealed. The other book, Women, features Annie Leibovitz‘s photos accompanied by Susan Sontag‘s words, and yes, both Leibovitz’s images and Sontag’s essay will instantly absorb you.

I am fortunate to have both books in front of me at this moment. The people captured by the photographers’ lens, and the questions posed in Sontag’s essay broaden my experience. And isn’t that what we expect books to do? To take us out of ourselves, to show us a different place, a different existence. To remind us that everything doesn’t necessarily start and stop with my individual life. Rather each of us is intertwined with so many others in a myriad of ways. Through books, we can glimpse others’ lives, learn of unimagined experiences, our world grows. Hopefully we gain insight. We see the faces of those who mine coal, a man’s fingers picking coffee beans, a woman’s hands sewing garments in a factory. We see the hands of a surgeon and the hands of an addict. Leibovitz gives us women farmers, actors, scholars, athletes, and politicians.

My take away from these books is the strength we each possess. Despite hardships, despite the place we find ourselves in at this moment. The look in the eyes of the miners at the end of their day, the nurse finishing a long shift, the woman weaving. Both books are reminders of humans’ capabilities and determination.

Handbook, Eve Arnold (2004)

Women, Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag (2000)

Balance

In these times, for me, its an attempt to find a balance between feeling productive and taking a breath, between sending love to those who struggle, to all those heroes who are helping as well as to acknowledge the dark, raging turmoil I feel towards those who make this situation worse. Is it possible to read too much when I could be sewing more face masks to give to people? Should I take a device-free day to avoid the news but then what about staying in much needed contact with family and friends? We are urged to make a daily schedule and we are urged to relax, to use this time to be creative and to cut ourselves slack.

Yes, the bookstore storage/garage and the van itself are organized and just waiting for the pall to lift. Jana who was quarantined at my house for two weeks was a big part of that organization. Left on my own now I wander like an easily distracted school kid from an art project to reading to sewing masks to the computer to reading to the computer to fiddle practice to attempting to exercise to…If there was an app tracking my activities, the results would be a Jackson Pollock painting.

My current book pile is similar. A Georgia O’Keefe biography, Charles Portis’ The Dog of the South, essays by Wendell Berry, Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, short stories by Brian Doyle, and Rebecca Salter’s Japanese Woodblock Printing. And yes, there are times when I go through that pile and realize none are quite right for the moment and start yet another one. Actually I am not quite sure what would be right for this moment.

Despite uncertainly, fear and anger, there is also amazement at how my community comes together, at individuals creating wonderful art in so many different ways, at people reaching out to others even if that reaching needs to sometimes be done virtually. It makes my heart sing to see colleagues like Raven Books in Kansas and Page 158 Books in North Carolina doing remarkable things to keep books in people’s hands. And I am so appreciative of women in my town who sew face masks better and faster than I will ever manage.

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.

 

Bonus

A wondrous morning in Woodstock, IL with the bookstore and that town’s Atrocious Poets set up at Isabel’s Family Restaurant. The last official event on this tour! Driving away from Woodstock that afternoon, it seemed the next set of days would be very long stretches of road with perhaps a few short sporadic conversations if an extrovert happened to sit next to me at a breakfast counter.

Today was a five hundred plus mile drive from Albert Lea, Minnesota to Rapid City, South Dakota. At one point I wanted lunch, hoping to find something better than fast food or a truck stop. Pulled off the interstate at White Lake, South Dakota. A sign indicated a restaurant even though a very small town (population 375). I found the White Lake Cafe and noticed it was ideally situated a few doors down from a post office.

Waiting for my order, I was writing postcards when an elegantly attired older woman came up to my table and asked if that was my van parked out front. I immediately thought I parked illegally but no, she was curious what this traveling bookstore was about. She pulled up a chair, we talked as fast as possible as she needed to go to a meeting soon, and we exchanged addresses. Before she left, I went out to open the bookstore so she could see inside.

Linda Dodds is the town’s librarian with a minuscule budget and a role that involves more than just checking out books and shelving. The library is only open a few days/week but Ms. Dodds puts on events for the community, helps the school which doesn’t have its own librarian, and passionately searches for books to get young people interested in reading. During our brief conversation, she convinced me to attend the South Dakota Festival of Books next year and had me brainstorming YA fiction titles.

As she dashed off, I finished lunch and thought of other communities my bookstore stopped in that shone with a commitment to reading. There was the spectacular public library in Port Orford, Oregon (another small town with a population of 1,148) which found community support to expand when the county system wanted to close it down. And the woman I met in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania who helped with an event that had families reading under the stars in the sports stadium. And all the people who rave to me about their local book clubs! There are a few individuals who grumble about the death of books and that kids don’t read anymore, but on these bookstore travels, I feel very hopeful.

Stopping by

Is there a best bookstore stop? There are so many different ones and so many are surprises. Sturgis, South Dakota was on the trip itinerary but who knew it would turn out to be such a great stop with thought-provoking conversations and delicious food at Jambonz? Or Crete, Illinois. Have you heard of Crete (not the Mediterranean island but the community south of Chicago)? The bookstore set up at Crete Creative Gallery which had a lovely, delicate exhibit by Sherri Denault and a spread of pastries with coffee by the Benton Street Bakery. Women from local clubs who were so well read I felt provincial and artists, photographers and writers stopped by throughout the day.

There was driving the bookstore through twisting golden-forested roads in central Pennsylvania to get to Punxsutawney. I wondered how a town so off the beaten track ended up on the tour. Then I met the sparkling Jeanne Curtis in person who had extended the original invitation. I met her cousins, local librarians, a talented young musician (Samantha Sears), a kid who bought a book about mining for his grandfather, a woman who bought a book about the West for her father, a man who wants to move to Montana to be a fishing guide (please do this, Jason, life is short!), and the man who is one of two official keepers for the groundhogs, Punxsy Phil and Phyllis. I heard about the mines closing and schools consolidating, young people moving away to find work.

In every town there are stories; perhaps it’s a trade where I bring books and individuals give stories – about the grandfather who used to work in a Pennsylvania coal mine, or the mom in Toledo who left her car running as she quickly bought three children’s books. She was on her way to work but wants her kids to grow up reading. Or the woman in Punxsutawney who volunteers for the Parents Teachers Organization and helped put together “Reading Under the Stars” where families gather on a special evening to spread out blankets in the sports stadium and enjoy reading activities. There was the 96 year old woman in Toledo a friend brought to the bookstore. She explained her local library delivers books to her twice a month so she doesn’t need to buy any but she did want to see this traveling bookstore she heard so much about.

Many wondrous individuals. But there are dark moments too. Why do so many women ask if I am afraid to travel alone in this country? The other evening after closing the bookstore, I got a GoFundMe request for a friend with mountains of medical bills. I read a NBC article that the number is now over five thousand children who have been separated from their families at our border. Driving into Maryland from Pennsylvania, I see a Confederate flag.

midsummer

OverIMG_1357 coffee this morning jotted down some bookstore thoughts.  Now with a few weeks’ perspective, there is the wonder of my Western States Bookstore Tour and all the great things that came from that – new people, new gig locations, new sights to remember, old friends, revisiting places I had set up before that welcomed me back. For those of you who might consider starting up your own traveling bookstore business, I will caution that 3-4 weeks on the road is exhilarating and exhausting.  So many adventures! Some nail biting, some heart warming.  For now it is a treat to be back in Montana and know that for the rest of the summer I will mostly be peddling books in these parts.

Since returning home, bookstore wonders happen even in Lincoln County, Montana.  The county is large by some standards; has more square miles than Delaware but a population just shy of 20,000 people.  So lots of forests and mountains, rivers and lakes but rather small towns.  Last week with the bookstore at the Eureka farmers market, I started talking with Stella, a young person who obviously loves books.  Turns out she is an avid reader and hopes to become a journalist after college.  But as she is currently twelve years old, still has time to change her mind. She mentioned doing a regular podcast about books.  Definitely appreciate a young person who isn’t shy about her passion and is willing to actualize something she cares about.

A realization that came from having the bookstore at farmers markets – perhaps all those luscious vegetables and fruits at booths near by – was how books are like fertilizer.  They help ideas grow.  They nurture new thoughts.  They strengthen so many things from general knowledge to vocabulary to understanding of cultures.  I suppose having a Textual Apothecary, this thought shouldn’t have surprised me but it did.

A few short notes…

Mission Pie which is a wonderful place in San Fransisco that hosted the bookstore and Type-Ins numerous times will close its doors on September 1.  So very thankful for all they gave the community over the years.IMG_1440

I recently completed a chapbook with Shirley Jacobs and will have limited copies available at the bookstore.

Upcoming bookstore events (although there are bound to be more which will be updated on the bookstore’s Facebook page):

every Wednesday at Eureka Farmers Market 3:30 – 6:30

every Friday at Trego Farmers Market 4:00 – 7:00 (unless scheduled for another event)

July 18 TBC Laughing Dog Brewery, Sandpoint ID

July 19 – 20 Yaak music festival, Yaak MT

August 9 – 10 Riverfront Blues Festival, Libby MT

August 23-25 Lincoln County Fair, Eureka MT

September 14 Kootenai Harvest Festival, Libby MT

 

Map reads

Getting in some travel this winter without the bookstore but of course there are books involved.  The last trip was by train down through Portland, along the west coast in jumbled connections arranged by Amtrak that included trains, taxi, buses and more trains to finally arrive in Albuquerque.  On the way back to Montana passing through the Bay Area, managed to take trams, ferries, and BART.  Sufficient opportunities to see what people are reading on public transportation.  Saw many copies of Michelle Obama’s Becoming being read, most in English while others were translated editions in Spanish, German, French and one I couldn’t quite decipher.  Had the pleasure of hearing two IMG_0902thought-filled poetry readings, meeting a travel writer for the NY Times, experiencing Pegasus Books and East Bay Booksellers, Powell’s and Broadway Books, and marveled at the number of little free libraries in most neighborhoods we passed through.

At Powell’s, pleased to see people of all ages roaming the aisles which are carefully numbered and mapped out.  Thought about what a map of my traveling bookstore might look like if I designed one. Although my bookstore has only one aisle, it does offer diversity of place.  The map would need to incorporate those places in various times.  Powell’s has one map as its aisles ( and bookstore) are stationary.  A map of St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore would obviously require more advanced cartographic techniques.

Appreciated Amtrak‘s customer service, especially Libbi in Portland who helped out with muddled reservations, the woman at the Sacramento station who arranged for a forty-eight mile taxi ride so we could make our connection, and the Amtrak bus driver between Bakersfield and LA who had a lovely smile, purple braids and made us feel warmly welcomed despite the damp weather.  In general, nearly everyone encountered renewed our faith in humanity: the waitstaff at Milo’s, Don at Robertson & Sons Violin Shop, the man at Smyths Accordions who didn’t mind us all squeezed into the tiny showroom as Ray tried out various accordions.

Arriving home inspired to try harder, to start planning the spring bookstore trip heading south, and to be kinder to people met by chance on the road.

 

 

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)

 

My Oh My

As a traveling bookstore based in northwest Montana, I take winter seriously.  Travels slow down this time of year and most events are closer to home until early Spring.  Yes, there is still sorting books and ordering tshirts, reading because of course talking books is up brittanythere among favorite activities, and getting the typewriter repaired after a summer of many children trying it out with youthful vigor.  The bookstore will open for Shop Small Saturday (November 24) next to Montana Farmacy in Eureka and then on December 1 at the Holly Faire in Eureka.

But this last week there was such a flurry of activity on the bookstore’s social media I wondered what in the world was going on.  Not only ‘likes’ but messages, phone calls, emails and tshirt orders.  It took a few days to determine that an article about the traveling bookstore on Bookbub had gotten the word out to many corners of the world. A bookseller in India wrote me about the van, an author in Colorado invited me to visit, and a writer in Sheboygan, Wisconsin offered to send me copies of her books. And these are just a few of the numerous people who wrote such good things to me about the bookstore and the idea of making books available in all sorts of out of the way places.

This could be a very long post but I assume you are busy helping to get the vote out and/or thinking about the upcoming holidays.  Let me narrow my thoughts to just a few. This fall has been a challenging one for us all with the elections, decisions made in Washington, and the tragedies in Pittsburgh, Kentucky and Florida.  There are many times even within a day when I wonder what I can do to help my community, my country. When the bookstore’s social media started ringing off the wall, I assumed it was something devious but then realized there were good people out there, united around the idea of books and reading, and enthused to see someone with a new bookstore concept (albeit small).  To me, it felt like light coming through the clouds.  Not that it changed the political situation, but it was a reminder of our shared humanity in a tiny way.

Also I wanted to thank Brittany Shoot who was the first journalist to recognize the wonders of a traveling bookstore.  I found this photo from when she hung with the bookstore on a very chilly morning in Woodstock, Illinois.  It was in the parking lot of Isabel’s Family Restaurant.  Another reminder with Brittany’s cheering the bookstore on through snow and ice and Isabel’s providing awesome pie how despite the miles and countless stops, how much the bookstore needs a community even when traveling.

Thank you.