What does it mean

I’ve been doing this traveling bookstore business for eight years now, but there are still surprises. This afternoon while scrolling Twitter (and no, I don’t know what’s happening to the #birdsite), someone posted a photo of my bookstore. I won’t bother describing the Tweet in words because here’s a screenshot.

Over two thousand ‘likes.’ I don’t know what this means and, yes, it surprised me. I can’t imagine this many individuals liking my traveling bookstore without first experiencing it in person. They didn’t chance upon it while ambling down a street in White Sulphur Springs, MT or San Francisco, CA or Smiths Grove, KY. They didn’t spy it parked amongst the food trucks at the Brooklyn Book Festival or the South Dakota Book Festival. They weren’t drawn into this van/bookstore with curiosity when it was set up in Lincoln, NE on a summer’s day when it was over 100°F or in Morgantown, WV when it was raining so hard there was a forecast of flooding.

Obviously this traveling bookstore can’t hold two thousand people if they showed up at the same time or even on the same day. It’s something of a squeeze really to have 2-3 people inside at once – unless they are small children in which case it might fit 4-5. And there is no way at all I can manage having a conversation with two thousand people. I mean I try to limit dinner parties to four or five because it’s just plain difficult to seriously talk with more people than that in a gathering. Perhaps the two thousand could form small groups and talk together while I tried to direct individuals to where the art books are located (back of the van on the bottom shelf), or where they might find an Arabic-English dictionary (top shelf to your left).

Perhaps these ‘likes’ aren’t for the endearing photo of the traveling bookstore at all, a photo taken by Jack DeWitt one early spring morning in Kalispell, MT (2015). He told me the light would be good that time of day especially if I drove the bookstore into a field (which was a bit daunting as I was still new to driving it then). I parked, pulled the door open, and set up the entrance as if I were at an event. Then Jack began taking photos, telling me to stand back to not cast shadows. And now here is that photo on Twitter. Perhaps the ‘likes’ aren’t for this particular photo, but for the words, tickling those who love reading, who can imagine going to any length for a good book. Perhaps that means walking through Portland rain to get to Mother Foucault’s Bookshop, or rummaging too long (despite allergies) at a library book sale in a musty warehouse because of all the great deals, or getting nearly hopelessly lost trying to visit The Strand because one must go there when in NY. And, now that I’m off on that tangent, I think of Second Edition Books in Butte, MT which if you are going across on I-90 you really must experience.


Propelled forward by looking back

I want to be on the road with the traveling bookstore. I want to set up at music festivals and in cities, by coffee shops in small towns and at county fairs. I want the sun to be out and people willing to engage in real conversations as we stand by the bookstore marveling at all the wonders one can find in print. I want to share ideas for how to make the world a better place and to exchange titles for some great books we read this winter. And I also want to feel comfortable with people going into the bookstore and as we stand outside next to the table with the typewriter set up, knowing we care enough to keep each other healthy.

I appreciate the book club in Eureka read a wonderful range of books this winter and has more coming up through the spring. We are a small club in a rural (and rather remote) community of northwest Montana. Since summer, we’ve met virtually. Yet we manage to have good conversations, decide on monthly titles that offer us a range of authors and ideas, encourage each other to grow and think. Some of our titles: Woman, Girl, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Wolverine Way by Doug Chadwick, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor, The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai.

While looking for a photo that made sense to me for this post, this moment, I came across one from six years ago. My first bookstore trip out of town was to a two-day music festival in Yaak, MT and if you don’t know this place, you should. I worried driving there up twisted mountain roads, no other vehicles in sight, setting up in a field behind the Yaak Tavern & Mercantile, but then did extremely well selling books. Spent my first night ever sleeping in the bookstore. And the next day met this young couple from New York City who suggested I go to the Brooklyn Book Festival. And the following year I did. First time driving the bookstore across country. Barely able to breathe as I navigated it through the city, wondering if a traveling bookstore in NYC would even be noticed (but it was!).

Since then I have put lots of miles on the bookstore; taken it across country multiple times, up and down the west coast, through the Rocky Mountains. After that first book festival in NY, I’ve set it up in Seattle, Portland, Baltimore, Raleigh, Sioux Falls, Chicago, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and many more cities as well as numerous rural towns. And that couple who suggested the Brooklyn Book Festival – they have two young children now and are doing well. I follow photos of their family on social media. I’ve done things that I didn’t envision doing when I met them. And no doubt raising their two kids is something they couldn’t have imagined fully either. So looking forward to this summer, I want to believe it is possible to do more things – meet people who will change my life, have conversations that stick with me for years, and of course, read books that are remarkable.

Kaleidoscopic self(s)

Some might think a traveling bookstore would be enough. After all by its third summer in operation, the bookstore had been all over Montana (no small feat), to the Brooklyn Book Festival in NY, to events in San Francisco, to Portland and to the Seattle area. It had set up in Illinois and Idaho.  It had been perused by the waitress at Trixi’s Saloon in Ovando and by a cop in Choteau.  It had blown a tire in S. Dakota and had a small fixable oil problem in Coeur d’Alene.

Processed with MOLDIVAnd of course there are times when the bookstore stays parked quietly at home while I wander forth with a small suitcase and only a book or two.  The current adventure has me in the Czech Republic with a brief foray to Vienna, and  then later to Israel, Hungary and Romania.  It was really just today though while buying a canvas (my third on this trip) that I realized different places pull out different aspects of who I am.  While in my hometown, I’m compelled to volunteer, to give to the community which gives so much to me.  In Brno, I find myself doing art on a daily basis – perhaps the lovely morning light in the flat where I stay.  In Vienna, I could sit for hours (and do) writing: writing on a bench in the midst of the Impressionist exhibit, writing in a small quiet cafe). I remember once being at the Oregon coast with a friend over a long weekend sewing.   As though I had to get as much sewing done as possible even though I rarely sew.  Different places draw out different aspects of me, as though there isn’t a static me but a me that changes with place.

I wonder if this happens to other people. Is it one of the reasons we travel?  And how do people who don’t travel manage to see all they are capable of doing?

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.



Taking a step

The new season is about to open. I assume winter is mostly behind us and the roads (at least some of them) are ice free. Next Sunday the bookstore will set up at HA Brewery on Grave Creek Rd. Then the year unfolds with farmers market, fairs, music festivals and parties – all sorts of great places to ply books to hungry readers.  ThIndianae traveling bookstore was officially accepted as a vendor at the 2016 Brooklyn Book Festival so we will head to New York in September. Steps…taking steps. The first was making the decision to buy a van and convert it into a bookstore. The second was even thinking that this was a business that I could survive and not go broke. I remember driving the bookstore to the Yaak last summer and feeling that it was a step. Now I will take it across country.

We need to do it.  Push ourselves to take these steps.  It can be something like going to a party alone after your ex moved out.  Or maybe deciding to live in India for six months teaching English in a remote village. Starting a business, changing jobs, moving to a new place where you don’t know anyone. I am not a big exercise junkie but I see these steps as a way to make us strong.  I took the bookstore to the Yaak. I drove it across Montana to Bozeman.  I can take it to NY.  One step and then another and with each one we become stronger, more capable.  This is what the world needs.