Be Grateful

We might as well get right to to the point for those of you who want to know the where and when of the September bookstore trip. Of course there are bookstore events here in northwest Montana happening before September, but for those of you in other states – here are places you can stop by to check out the traveling bookstore.

September 11: Portneuf Valley Brewery in Pocatello, ID

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

September 16 & 17: Fiction Beer in Denver, CO

September 19: Barista’s Daily Grind in Kearney, NE

September 20: Constellation Studios in Lincoln, NE

September 21: Lux Center for Arts in Lincoln, NE

September 23-25: South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings, SD

September 26: Red’s Grill in Sturgis, SD

September 28: Public library in White Sulphur Springs, MT

The hot summer days lend themselves to reading, at least for me. Just finished Horse by Geraldine Brooks,The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton, and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Poised to read some nonfiction while at the Yaak music festival this weekend (bound to be cooler there).

Feeling very appreciative of the individuals who work with me to get bookstore tours set up, folks who graciously provide me with housing along the way, people who give me books, people who reach out to support the bookstore (thanks to Rita Hubbs in NC for her tshirt order!), and the roads that let me go to all these amazing places. I suppose there are things I could grumble about, but there is truly so much to be grateful for.

Part of What It Takes

If you happen to have a brick-and-mortar bookstore, most days have an easy start (although no doubt there might be challenges as your day proceeds from broken plumbing to late deliveries to the occasional grumpy customer). But at least when you head off to work, you know the address, where your bookstore is and chances are, it was there yesterday and it will be there tomorrow. With a traveling bookstore, it is different. There is definitely a process to figuring out where it will be especially when setting up a tour.

The traveling bookstore is participating in this year’s South Dakota Festival of Books in Brookings, SD at the end of September. To get there, the bookstore will travel through – and set up – in Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska. And so the planning begins. I write to places I know something about. VERY excited to be setting up for two days at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. Then there are new places I discover on the internet, write a note and get a reply. Sometimes places are, “Yes! a traveling bookstore!!!” And sometimes, well…not so enthused. But Portneuf Valley Brewing in Pocatello, ID was enthused and it will be a treat to set up there (check out their brews and food menu).

Often people who are curious about the traveling bookstore business ask, “But where do you stay?” Let me be blunt. I rarely sleep in the bookstore – although I do in July when I set up at the Yaak River Music Festival. And there are times when the timing, the weather, my weariness conspire and I find a motel along the route. But most of the time when on the road, I find good souls willing to put me up for a few days. So planning a tour requires not only finding the best places for the bookstore to set up, but places for the owner/driver (me) to stay. And in many ways, it is similar to finding locations for the bookstore. There are friends in Denver, Salt Lake City, and Lincoln I very much look forward to staying with on this upcoming trip. There are also places more challenging to find housing. Fortunately there are friends of friends, neighbor’s cousins, SERVAS. As someone once said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”

But it is a process. Here I am starting in June to get it lined out, figuring out distances, looking at maps, sending out emails, making phone calls. Slowly it will take shape, and I will post events on the bookstore’s Facebook page as they are confirmed, and eventually post the complete Tour Schedule on this blog. A traveling bookstore is quite the business/lifestyle. Still looking for the best noun to describe it.

Think twice

The traveling bookstore has been getting press. Nice to hear people who respond talk about their own love of books, their passion to follow their dreams, their desire to shape a dream. Of course, the press paints a rosy picture of life with a traveling bookstore. And yes, there are definitely many remarkable traveling bookstore aspects and adventures – which I’ll enumerate a few paragraphs down. But it is necessary to point out there are moments – the flat tire in the middle of North Dakota, the day the bookstore broke down in Wyoming with nary a mechanic in sight to work on a Mercedes diesel engine, a business owner complaining about THAT transient business (the traveling bookstore) set up in her town, driving through torrents of rain on the recent trip to Portland.

But sometime dark moments turn bright. For example, when set up at Extracto Coffee (Portland) on Memorial Day, lots of people were there to buy coffee and pastries – and many bought books. But by the time this bookseller and the accordionist, Shirley Jacobs, took a break, Extracto had sold out of pastries! To save us from becoming hangry, Jennifer (dear bookstore customer who happens to live a few blocks from Extracto) kindly offered to bring us lunch. She returned within the hour with sandwiches, fruit, and delicious chocolate chip cookies.

And yesterday – this was very unusual – a guy pulled up next to the bookstore and asked if I needed any office supplies. Opened the back of his SUV which had a plethora of staplers, paperclips, clipboards, tape, index cards – all brand new and here was this guy with very little explanation, ready to give me as much as I needed.

Currently, the bookstore is set up on Bainbridge Island where Kristin offered a lovely place to stay, the waitress at the Madison Diner made the morning pleasant, the woman at Sound Reproduction patiently helped troubleshoot getting troublesome copies printed, and staff at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art were totally awesome. All of which made dealing with the rain easier.

And so many good conversations including a hiker from Boston who is thinking about changing locations, a teacher from Minneapolis with a great vision, and a book artist/printer who explained it wasn’t until she was in college that she discovered art was what she was meant to do. I learned about Provisional Press which is going to be a game changer, was reminded by Amos Kennedy to act to make the world better, and am now ready to take the bookstore to Milwaukee, Detroit and LA – all new places for the bookstore because of meeting people this weekend who make those places seem like I need to visit.

Obviously the bookstore business, like much in life, is unfolding in fits and starts. And I am so appreciative of the support and inspiration from a variety of sources along the way.

Who knows

The 2022 traveling bookstore season officially begins Thursday, May 5th at the Libby, MT farmers market. A slow start doing that Thursday market for a few weeks and then hit the road going west. The bookstore sets up twice in Portland, OR – at Extracto Coffee on May 30 and then at Cathedral Coffee on June 1. A day’s break to enjoy Portland and then the bookstore heads north to Bainbridge Island for a three-day event at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art on June 3-5. Back to Montana after that to open the season at the Eureka farmers market on Wednesday, June 8th.

But although getting these dates and places out to traveling bookstore fans and readers in general is, of course, valuable, I did want to reflect a bit on something that happened today. I was in my role of volunteer at the Historical Village as it is Rendezvous Days in Eureka, MT this weekend. Explaining all that would take more time then you might want to spend reading about small town Montana. Suffice it to say, lots of people turn out to look at booths, watch a parade, and catch up with friends they haven’t seen all winter. I was in the looking at booths stage when I began talking with a woman who said she had recently moved here from the Bay area. She mentioned that she is an artist. I suggested she consider showing her art through a local nonprofit that has rotating art exhibits at the Eureka, Fortine and Trego post offices. She was very interested in that, and to give her a way to get in touch for more info, I gave her one of my traveling bookstore business cards. She looked at it and asked, “Did you set up in San Francisco?” And I said yes, various times. I had done a few gigs at Mission Pie and…”Yes!”, she said, “I met you there.”

Of course this involved having a long conversation about Mission Pie (which has since closed) and other places I had set up the bookstore in San Francisco, and how this woman ended up moving to Eureka, MT. There are times especially after a long winter, when I am not entirely sure having a traveling bookstore puts even a tiny dent into the world. After all – World Book Day was a week ago and there I was stocking the van, getting oil changed, making sure tires were good as I anticipated hitting the road on May 5. Today, April 30th which is Independent Bookstore Day, I volunteered in my community rather than setting up my bookstore. I’m not having big events at my bookstore today, authors aren’t doing readings in the van followed by wine and cheese this evening. I am excited to be setting up at the Libby’s farmers market on Cinco de Mayo though, and pleased with how nice the bookstore looks and with the selection of books now on the shelves as I start the new season.

And there is a young artist who remembers the traveling bookstore set up next to Mission Pie at least four years ago. Not only was the bookstore there, but we did some awesome type-in events as well. Hard to know where one makes a difference.

Home

Even with a traveling bookstore, there are thoughts of home. Sometimes while on the road, I find myself yearning for home – at least the people and things I left there. Often while on the road, people ask me where I’m from. This winter, I began delving into what home means. I asked others, and I will say, for every individual I spoke with about home, there was a unique answer. I started making a short film as a way to document these answers, and an attempt to learn how to make a longer (and hopefully better) film about the topic. Here is my first attempt: Home/Domov.

Recently while listening to news from Ukraine – the horror and sadness of people losing homes, people losing family, people losing lives – the concept of home feels even more poignant. Today I heard a Czech friend had provided a Ukrainian family with an apartment. I’m appreciative of having people like this in my life, people willing to give. People who see a need and respond.

The apartment being used by the Ukrainian family is one I’ve stayed in. I know the art on the walls, the dishes that are in the cabinets, the view from the windows. I hope the family feels safe there, and that circumstances allow them to return home soon. Or perhaps they will make this new country their home.

Those thoughts led to another. While teaching in the Czech Republic, a musical group I was part of received a grant that allowed us to travel to Munich, Germany. While there, we would give a few concerts, sing with a children’s choir, and visit a nursing home to perform. But where would we stay? There were fifteen of us, and the grant really wasn’t that generous. I put out the word to everyone I could think of with connections in Munich, and a couple contacted me – offering their house. I explained there were fifteen people and ideally we would be able to cook at the house as well as sleep there because we were on a tight budget. The woman said no problem and gave me their address. I was thankful, and didn’t give it another thought until we arrived at her home. It was quite small. Two bedrooms (one of course reserved for the couple who lived in the house), a bathroom, kitchen and living room. Someone in our group immediately took charge, dividing up who would sleep where (we all had sleeping bags) and organizing a schedule for showers. I was in charge of cooking so sorted out who would help with that. It worked out beautifully – yes, crowded but everyone remained in a good mood, evenings spent singing songs with the couple and drinking beer. As we left their house on our last day, the woman said she didn’t need our thanks – she asked that we each just keep this experience in mind, and open our homes to others whenever possible.

I try to open my home to anyone who needs a space. I feel blessed as many people have opened their homes to me. And now I am very glad to see people in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic opening their homes to those from Ukraine needing shelter.

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

Staying focused

Even though I am trying to read the best books I can possibly find at the moment, I am still distracted by my community and the larger picture. The number of people opposed to vaccinations and face masks, Covid stats skyrocketing, people in this small town dying. Having civil conversations about the situation is difficult because it is as though we are speaking different languages, or using different logic systems. I long for something like the Babel fish in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I wish there was some way I could understand where these folks are coming from, those who stand firm against any sort of mask protocol in our schools even as Covid numbers escalate here.

Of course, all the dystopian books I think of don’t seem to help. I really want something that not only provides a good ending, but with clear directions how to get there. I recently read Robert Putnam’s “The Upswing” which was compelling in how the period between the late 1800s and today was analyzed, but did not provide easy answers about what we can do now. And I am looking for answers.

Later this month, I take the bookstore on the road. Setting up outside the public library in White Sulphur Springs, MT on September 17 and 18, then at Mountains Walking Brewery in Bozeman September 19 and 20. I am hopeful enough road time, driving across long Montana stretches will inspire some ideas, and perhaps talking to others (outside) in different communities will also give insight.

I thought it would be kind to end this post on a positive note. Thought about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” But for the moment I have no sense of direction, what the next step should be. But, of course, willing to take it anyway so putting on my lovely hat and a mask as I walk out the door.

Textual apothecary

As a traveling bookstore owner/driver, the books I read come to me in a variety of ways. There are those recommended by readers. Often I jot down titles and if I don’t have a copy in the bookstore, order it through interlibrary loan. Sometimes I read a book review that is so compelling I try to order the title through the library, but if it is too new and the library doesn’t have it available yet, then I find another independent bookstore to buy it from. And sometimes on longer traveling bookstore adventures, I just pull a book off the shelf that looks interesting and read that. That’s what happened this weekend while at the Yaak music festival. As I sank into the first chapter, it almost felt too coincidental that I randomly selected that particular book at this particular time.

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada is a novel based on a slice of German history from World War II. In the early 1940s, Elise and Otto Hampel, a working class, middle-aged couple, began committing acts of civil disobedience against the Nazi regime. They wrote postcards that they then left in public places for others to find. The postcards had short messages denouncing Hitler and urging people to take action. The Hampels were eventually arrested, tried and executed. In 1945, Hans Fallada was given the Gestapo files on Otto and Elsie Hampel as part of a Soviet post-war decision to create an antifascist cultural movement. Fallada, a talented German author who had struggled in Germany during the war, was asked to write something based on the lives of the Hampels. He wrote this novel.

It is a compelling story. Reading it during the summer of 2021 gives perspective to what many of us experience now in areas of the country that have become polarized. It raises questions about what we each do during troubled times. The Hampels wrote over two hundred postcards. Most individuals who found one of those cards quickly turned it over to the Gestapo out of fear. Fallada does well describing how fear was established and used by the political regime at that time. This resonated with me as so many individuals I talk with about going to public meetings, speaking out, canvassing tell me they can’t because they are afraid. The Hampels’ resistance came from their determination to not let fear stop them from being true to their beliefs, to act even against overwhelming odds. Fallada captures the Hampels’ moral integrity, their effort to remain decent, their need to do something they hoped would make a difference.

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada

The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Unearthing Seeds of Fire: The ideas of Highlander by Frank Adams

It is summer

And the traveling bookstore is picking up speed. Most Wednesdays we’re set up at the Eureka Farmers Market. And on Thursdays, our books can often be perused at the Libby Farmers Market which is a nice weekly event held at the Libby Chamber of Commerce parking lot. There will be other summer bookstore events as well including the Yaak Music Festival (July 23-24) and the Lincoln County Fair (August 27-29). In September, the bookstore will put on miles heading out to White Sulphur Springs (9/17-18) and over to the South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood (October 1-2) with numerous stops along the way. It is such a pleasure after last year’s limited activity, to be back on the road again.

Perhaps it was missing out on a lot of bookstore action last year, or just the changing times, but this season feels more urgent to get books out to folks and to have conversations. When set up, the bookstore also offers Montana voter registration forms, plus a typewriter (along with envelopes and stamps) to encourage individuals to write letters to a local newspaper, to representatives in DC, to anyone who might benefit from knowing your ideas. At least in this region of the country (northwest Montana), it currently feels a struggle to maintain community spirit that is inclusive and supportive. A traveling bookstore has potential in its own small way for sharing conversations and discussions about books without hype or pressure.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Resource Guide Southern Poverty Law Center

a love letter

Another day organizing books in preparation for the season. Lillian helped me. She is nearly fourteen years old, a voracious reader, and thoroughly understands how to categorize and alphabetize. Working with her today reminded me of others who helped me with the various aspects of a traveling bookstore – from sorting books in the storage/garage to driving across country to watching over things so I could take a break on long book selling days. There are definitely more people on the list than I can send thanks to, or express my love for their help in one blog post. But because I thought of them a lot today while working with Lillian, I decided to share the extraordinary abilities of at least a few.

Stevie Sorenson was the first person. We happened to meet up at a community event, started talking about what we each did with our time. I asked what she planned to study at college. She said writing or becoming a librarian. I said I was starting a traveling bookstore and invited her to help me begin organizing the piles of boxes filled with books sitting in my garage that needed to be put in some organized manner onto shelves. It had felt like a daunting task until Stevie showed up and then we both threw ourselves into tackling it. Sam McCurry who was between semesters was next, and also obsessed about books and very much detailed oriented. She helped balance me when it came to making categories because really (I assume this won’t come as a surprise to those who have met me), my storage area for books is fairly neat but not exactly up to the Library of Congress standards.

Shortly after Sam helped out, I started going on longer trips with the bookstore and realized having the right person along helped immeasurably. Nada Vojtkova drove with me across from Montana to New York the first time and helped at the Brooklyn Book Festival. Melissa Anderson was with me on a drive back across country when the bookstore experienced a blowout in S. Dakota in a place that felt like the middle of nowhere. Sarah Anderson helped drive through a snow storm in Colorado when the gas tank showed empty. Britta Shoot met up with me and the bookstore during another snow storm – this one in Minneapolis – and remained cheerful although I suspect she was very cold as we headed south to Indianapolis. Jana Pestova did a traveling bookstore trip through North Carolina up to West Virginia and headed back west. She was with me the day an Asheville bookseller bought out a third of my inventory and I had a small meltdown. Anne Johnson who was supposedly on vacation helped me sell books and talk literature at the Lincoln County Fair. Lisa Kondylas saved my life at the Baltimore Book Festival which had very long days and many people (all very good for bookselling but a bit hard on the bookseller). She showed up once a day (a three day event) so I could grab a bite and find a restroom. She even invited her brother to stop by who brought delicious avgolemono soup for us.

You obviously see what I mean. Perhaps it is the nature of the traveling bookstore business or just my type of personality, but I truly depend on others to help pull through situations like blizzards, big cities, and what feels like catastrophic events. Sometimes I don’t even know the individual’s name who helps me. Once in Sacramento while set up at the awesome Temple Coffee Roasters, I very much needed to take a break and find lunch (Temple had yummy snacks but I wanted something more substantial). A lovely individual came up to me at the bookstore, asked about the business, looked more seriously at me and said she would watch the store while I got something to eat. I remain forever grateful to her despite never learning her name.

There are so many more but I try to keep these posts to a reasonable length. The traveling bookstore business is quite the adventure and thank goodness there is a patron saint to send helpful individuals my way. A few novels you might enjoy about bookstores if you haven’t run across them yet…

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

The Education of Harriet Hatfield by May Sarton

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George