#BookBusiness

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All my life I have moved toward living in a community with bookstores. If I were to get picky, the bookstores would be independent, not this chain garbage, although I can’t tell you how many times Barnes & Noble and, back in the day, Borders, saved my life because I didn’t have the luxury of being picky.

When I was kid in Northwest Ohio it was the chain Waldenbooks at the Defiance Mall. We had an independent in neighboring Bryan, Ohio, but I don’t recall it having more selection than my mother did (my mother had amassed enough books over years to almost hold up the walls).

When I was in college it was Barnes & Noble and Borders in Springfield, Missouri, if it wasn’t the university bookstore or a library book sale.

My introduction to the You’ve-Got-Mail, truly independent with a heritage kind of bookstore, was in the Bay Area. Independent bookstores were part of my decision to leave Southwest Missouri; when I left most of the independents were Bible bookstores. When I visited the bookstores in the Bay Area I got to know each one like a personality: Alexander’s on Second Street in San Francisco would have African American literature, Stacey’s would have lots of writerly and readerly accessories in addition to books and journals, Green Apple would stash the books in the stair bannisters, City Lights would be all about the beats, the renegades. I loved them all, and still love them all. I remember a quest to bring in a copy of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey to Green Apple, I remember getting a copy of Tales of the City at Alexander’s.  I remember the day Stacey’s closed, and I still have a tote bag from there.

San Diego, happily, also has a wonderful collection of bookstores. People who are from cities like New York and San Francisco can roll their eyes at the limited number of San Diego independents, but I am eternally grateful to them in any number. San Diego doesn’t like to set itself off as a readerly city (San Diego is mostly known as a brewery town), but when there are literary events the readers come out in a packed collective (would the noun here be “a chapter/book of readers”?). There are author events here, too; local authors come out en masse in August to meet readers at the two-day reader event sponsored by the Union-Tribune, visiting bookstore booths as well. In April the bookstores hold a Litcrawl, the bookstore equivalent of a pub-crawl all over the city (and San Diego is a sprawling city) for three days of book binging. And then there are the events that happen throughout the year by bookstore concoction and by author publication events: Warwicks has probably the largest number of author events, but authors also frequent South Park’s Book Catapult and North Park’s Verbatim (Verbatim is a big proponent of poetry and zine writers). The University of California San Diego bookstore has a cafe in the first floor, and The Library Shop has new books to buy if you don’t want to check them out on a deadline. Bluestocking Books in Hillcrest donates books to kids’ organizations and holds themed specials every month (with February they are discounting a small collection of titles on co-dependency), and LaPlaya Books in Point Loma (as well as the aforementioned Book Catapult) have book clubs that meet once a month.  Most of the stores send out emails of what’s new; Book Catapult also holds a once-a-month coffee session with the new suggestions on discount that day.

What’s the difference in a San Diego indie and a San Francisco indie? This could just be my personal experience; I’m so gun-shy of scaring people with my passion for reading that I try not to be a gushing groupie to the person behind the counter. My experience in San Francisco matched that fear; most of the booksellers I’ve met in San Francisco prefer to be left alone unless you’re desperate, with the exception of Green Apple, who I always enjoyed a conversational relationship with in the shop and on social media. But San Diego booksellers…my experience is that they will draw you out.  There’s not a time where I have walked into them without someone asking me if I needed help finding something; my standard response is that whatever I’m looking for usually finds me, and then the bookseller nods and laughs and realizes that I’m an avid reader without being scared by my passion. Some of them even ask about my reading habits and we are both at ease (Book Catapult knows I review books as a side gig, so we do a lot of talking shop in a safe space).  I’m not sure if in San Francisco the majority of booksellers know that they are in a literary town and therefore don’t encourage the groupie mindset (I’m reminded of the scene in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when Francie finally gets up the courage to ask for a book recommendation for the girl she used to be and confronts the librarian for not even looking up), but San Diego booksellers seem to relish any patron with a love of books who wants to talk.

San Diego, as a readership, seems to be grateful for the indie bookstore.

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#TheAwkwardInBetween or #EmpathyOnEitherSide

This is awkward me, a fish out of water in Northwest Ohio, in 1990:


I was a fish out of water because I read The New Yorker, my favorite author was Dorothy Parker, and I was a farm girl, although I tried to fit in by wearing acid-washed jeans and filling in as the school mascot at basketball games and wrestling matches occasionally. (Go Panthers!)

This is me, an awkward fish out of water in Southwest Missouri, around 1998/1999:


I was awkward in Missouri because I was an independent who mostly voted Democratic, because I was a Unitarian, because I loved literature so much that I was throwing away thousands in student loans to study it, and because between semesters I still worked in agriculture (cattle ranch), although I tried to fit in by bleaching my hair platinum and riding a scooter and not telling people what Unitarians believe.

This is me, an awkward fish out of water, in the Alamo Square neighborhood of San Francisco, 2005:


I was awkward because folks with less computer savvy than I had were calling me Amish because I was from the Midwest, because I didn’t know how to order a burrito, because I was white, because I still loved literature so much that it hurt (can’t seem to shake that one), because I believed in God’s love (Unitarian again), because I was an independent and therefore not Democratic enough, and because I was still a virgin at the age of 32.  I tried to fit in by dying my hair red and eating all kinds of exotic food and sleeping with men who didn’t value me.

In other words, I’m awkward everywhere.  I’m least awkward in San Francisco, but I’m still awkward.  I’ll not defend any of it; to Midwesterners I’m elite coastal, to coastal I’m a backward Midwesterner.

No wonder empathy is at a premium.

I make the joke on my Tumblr description that I don’t travel; I just up and move.  A constant pounding on my self-esteem has made that less of an action statement moving forward, but I read an article in The New York Times over the last week that restored some of my identity.  In the article, the reporter asked then President Obama about how books helped him survived the presidency.  He explained that books have always helped him in some form or another, because some settings he has found himself in have been “isolating.”  He described books as being friends when it was difficult to find the traditional definition.  He described an hour of reading nearly every night while he was in office as a way for him to slow down and gain perspective in a job that seemed determined to hit him rapid-fire.  He even spent a couple of years in college with only books as his social life, on purpose, and teaching himself how to write from reading great writers.

You don’t say, Mr. Obama.

Polarization is a given now, but I’m grateful for the chance to be awkward, to keep finding reading as an acceptable aspect of my personality, and to have that be something I don’t apologize for but encourage in others.  I’m a farm girl who loved the city, a city girl who misses singing Aerosmith tunes to the cows during round-up (beef cattle tend to prefer “Rag Doll” or “Dream On” from my experience; not big Armageddon soundtrack fans).  

I’m awkward in-between…aren’t we all?  Or am I the only one?

*****

Yesterday was the Women’s March series of protests around the world; and I have to admit I think we all needed that.  After all of the finger-pointing and polarization (see above) of the election, I honestly thought that maybe empathy wasn’t a part of the American fabric anymore.  But yesterday all kinds of folks showed up everywhere, on the coasts and in the rust belts, of all ages, ethnicities, orientations, genders, and all levels of awkwardness.  People who voted for Trump went, stating they wanted him to know he was on a short leash; people fighting all kinds of stereotypes went, voicing their distinction.  

So, in a sense, Trump did bring us all together; just not to back him.

Some media outlooks and cynics critiqued the events:  “What’s the point?  He’s still the president after you protest.”  All I could think of was the words of a Garth Brooks song from my Midwest years, right after the Oklahoma City bombing:


Sometimes that’s a good start.

Others ask us to “give the new President a chance.”  Fair enough, then my ask in return is this:  Where’s your line?  At what point will you be disgusted, too?  He’s bragged about sexual assault, he’s made fun of a prominent POW and a disabled journalist, he’s accused the last surviving leader of the Selma freedom march of “no action”…are you going to stop short of him assaulting puppies and children, or…you?  Where’s your line of “that was too far”?  He’s crossed mine; where is the one you’re letting him walk to so that I know when we’ll have your support?

Just asking…for a friend.

*****

Ok, if you made it this far, you’re ready for what I’m reading lately.  I’m still plugging away at the Finnegan memoir on surfing called Barbarian Days, and dragging out the last hundred pages because I am loving the narrative of this book.  You will still never catch me on a surfboard, but then I don’t need to surf to love this writing.

The New Yorker is still on the list, and yesterday the trains weren’t running so I visited the Carlsbad Library and checked out the latest Winterson book, even if it is Christmas-themed (I love her stuff just that much), and The Nix by Nathan Hill.  I shouldn’t have done The Nix; that one has holds and I only have it three weeks and the hardback is the size of a breadbox for Chrissakes, but…literature, shrug.  I’ll never shake it.  Me and the guy I voted for, finding friends in the pages.

In film I found some solace in the fight against a Holocaust-denier theme of Denial, a better understanding of Edward in Snowden, and I’m soaking up the last of Sherlock (ok, that’s not film, but close enough).  All the royal treatment on Netflix and Masterpiece/PBS lately has me hooked (that’s the history minor in college kicking in) as well.

And in the tunage department…still listening to Sharon Jones (because she’s alive as long as I keep her music playing, right?), Beyoncé, and Natalie Hemby.  If you don’t know Natalie go find her and listen to “Worn” from her Puxico album.  And there’s my Missouri coming up to the surface.

For now…doing my best to smooth in the face of my severity of awkwardness…take care.✨