#196, Visit an independent bookstore
I LOVE books.
I LOVE bookstores.
From the time I was three, I had a stack of Little Golden Books as long as my arm that I would take everywhere with me. Some toddlers have blankies. I had books. My favorite was The Tawny Little Kitten. Anyone who sat still for more than a moment would be pressed to read to me. Somewhere in an old album, on a sticky page, under a clear plastic overlay sheet, there is a picture of my grandfather reading to me from a teetering stack of little volumes. We both look really happy.
As I grew older, my idea of a perfect outing was to sit on the floor of a Pickwick’s Bookshop for as long as my parents would let me. While they would visit other stores, I would peruse as many books as I could. I would usually be allowed to go home with a book or two, and I chose books of Russian fairy tales with princesses who shared my name. Or I would select spelling workbooks for playing “school” with my friends. Oft times I would find a Judy Blume or a Laura Ingalls Wilder, or a Harriet the Spy, or even a Mrs. Pigglewiggle. Even now just saying the word Pickwick, stirs up a feeling of childlike excitement and I am reminded of how I loved the sharp-edged bookmarks which featured an illustration of a bespectacled gentleman bowing as if to say, “At your service”. The bookmarks were free and placed neatly inside the smooth brown paper bags that held our new books. I would take them home and use them as templates to make my own bookmarks out of construction paper, colored pencils, and gold foil stars.
My mother taught me to have a reverence for books. She began teaching me to start sounding out words when I was three. She taught me to read by the time I was four and she cautioned me to treat books tenderly. She taught me to believe that books have souls. For birthdays, I would get sets of beautifully bound books wrapped in white tissue. I still have my sets of Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and C.S. Lewis, all inscribed with love and hope for my future.
I lived with my mother and stepfather and I was the only child in the house.
There weren’t any bookstores in the town where we lived. Usually our travels to a distant mall or to a relative’s holiday party would be the only opportunities we had to buy new books. On the Navy base where we lived, however, I could easily walk to the library from our duplex on Halsey St. I would bring home as many books as I could carry.
With my lifelong trait of immoderation already firmly in place, I was determined to read ALL of the children’s books that our small library offered. I’m not sure how many titles I eventually accrued, (I’m sure I had a list), but the exercise cracked open a whole new world of reading for me. I pulled titles that would not otherwise have interested me. I read stories about the wives of Henry VIII. I read instructive books that taught me to fashion pot holders from fabric loops. I read books about the lives of German composers. I read about ocean voyages and I read about the adventures of wild horses and Apaches. I read the mysterious wanderings of the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and I read books that taught me how to perform magic tricks or how to make the same candy Martha Washington once made. I giggled my way through Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
In our small desert town, there weren’t many places to go. I had the kind of slow moving, tumbleweed upbringing that gave me long days to observe the habits of marching red ants and blinking horned toads. I spent hours in our giant apricot trees, languishing on the branches, writing flowery poetry and nibbling the blushing fruit. I lived on my purple Schwinn with handlebar streamers and I drew dirt rings with sticks through the Mojave sand where we played marbles. I dogpaddled in the base pools, and I imagined being the ringlet bearing characters in my books. I wrote little plays and dressed my cat, Kitty, in handmade costumes. I dreamed of being Sarah Crewe in The Little Princess, or asking for a bit of earth like Mary Lennox, in The Secret Garden. We only had a few channels on television, so besides Saturday morning cartoons, and the occasional double feature of Jerry Lewis movies, I didn’t watch much TV.
My life changed when my mother and stepfather divorced. I went to live with my father and his wife in San Diego county. My interest in books took a back seat to the wonders of new friends and cute boys and general mischief. Even when I began to drive, I don’t remember ever driving to a bookstore or a library. My life was all about football games, and part-time jobs, and blowdrying my feathered bangs.
Fortunately, I returned to books once the fires of adolescence flamed out. When I think about this time in my life, I flash on the book, The Giving Tree, and I feel sad for those years that I neglected my love of reading. I think words still played their part, though, because like many teenagers, I fell instead into the lyrics of songs.
Years later, I was reading again and living in Los Angeles. I learned that a favorite author would be in town and would be signing her book at Vroman’s bookstore, in Pasadena. I joined the long line of lifestyle disciples and swooned over Martha Stewart. Afterward, I happily wandered through the unfamiliar store with my purchased copy of Pies and Tarts.
Vroman’s became my favorite bookstore that day.
Not only does it still have stacks and stacks of splendid books, but the books are artfully and thoughtfully arranged. The books are interspersed with gift items, fine papers, greeting cards, French milled soaps, and holiday finery. The salesclerks are readers and are helpful in making recommendations. The store hosts events, both in house, and in other venues. There is even a small cafe inside.
You can feel yourself becoming more literary as you shop.
The first time I walked the aisles of the children’s section, upstairs, I was bowled over. I know I spent hours there even though I did not yet have children of my own. I sat cross-legged like an eight-year-old fawning over books about dragons and pirates and mermaids. If I had visited Vroman’s as a child, I think I would have pleaded to have my twin bed (with the mortifyingly masculine cowboy-printed mattress) moved into to a quiet corner, preferably near the Classics.
Come to think of it, wouldn’t that make a lovely children’s story? The protagonist lies hidden under her rancher’s quilt in an old bookshop, while during the night, characters from the books emerge to share stories and lead adventures and solve the problems of unwitting shoppers?
See? This is what it is like when you spend your childhood in books. Fantastical stories weave through your reality. When you fall in love, star-streaked poems swirl around your head. All of a sudden you are Cathy, with your hair whipping against the winds of the moors in Wuthering Heights, and when you are faced with the torment of grief, you are Little Ann, succumbing to despair, in Where the Red Fern Grows.
You can never just be a flat person moving through a flat world, when there are these untold depths of stories to draw from.
(If you just thought of Flat Stanley, you know precisely what I mean.)
Last night as I wandered the aisles of Vroman’s, I did what I always do. I promised myself that one day I will find a whole day to spend slow blinking horned toad minutes browsing the shelves. I pledged to start that day with Photography and make my way through Gardening and then Cookbooks and next hit the sections on California and Architecture, and then I realize, both with joy and sadness, there will never be enough time to wander a bookstore and there will never be enough time to read all the books I want to read.
I’ll just have to make a list, and work my way through it, one lovely moment and one lovely volume at a time– kind of like the way the princess works through all those mattresses on her way to discover the pea, or the way the children have to unwrap all those chocolate bars while looking for the golden ticket, or …well, you get the picture.
311 days to go!