Jackie And Me
This is my fourth week working as Recommender-In-Chief at the Battenkill Bookstore and I can't speak for Connie Brooks, but it is a happy experience for me. We are selling a lot of books, recommending a lot of books. As it has turned out, the most surprising thing about this job has turned out to be people – connecting to people who love books and bookstores and also who value the power of human connection. People are starving for human connection, for the value of one person knowing another in an increasingly fragmented and impersonal world. The job has been a great and unexpected boon for me. I am helping a wonderful independent bookstore rather than simply talking about helping bookstores. I am helping people find good books, I am helping writers find good readers. I am discovering some wonderful books that have reawakened my passion for reading, helped inspire and inform my writing. The job has led to doing something else I love, writing book reviews (I was a critic at one time.) The Battenkill Experiment is marked and bounded by people – some who come to the store, others who connect with me in different ways.
I can feel it building, one person, one recommendation, one review at a time. We will be rocking by summer and surely for Christmas. I will have a thousand good recommendations by then.
On my first day, my friend Bob Gray showed up. He was a bookseller when I met him, my model notion of a bookseller. His visit rekindled our friendship. Last week, Linda Wigmore, who has been following and posting on my blog for years, showed up with her new love. It was a gift to put a face to that name.
But perhaps the most powerful connections for me has been with Jackie, a woman I have never met and will most likely never meet. She lives in the Midwest and was the first person to call me on my first day working Saturdays at Battenkill Books. I knew little about her, except that her husband died recently, she gathers good books to read as winter deepens, she loves farms and has a deep interest in spirituality. Her parents are suffering from Alzheimer's, she has a lot on her plate. She handles it with grace and dignity. Reading is important to her. Like many people who call me for the first time, she was a bit uncomfortable, unsure of what to expect from me, anxious not to bother me or to seem too intrusive.
The minute she began talking, a series of books flashed through my mind to recommend to her. I don't know how this works for me, it just does. She was shocked at how in sync we were. My job, I said.
Sometimes we just connect with people and that is what happened with Jackie and me. I recommended a mystery set in an art museum and she told me that her husband was an art historian. I recommended a book on Kansas farming ("Time's Shadow," which I reviewed yesterday) and she told me she spent time in Kansas as a child. I recommended a mystery set in Minnesota and that, she said, is where she lives. She ordered all of the books I recommended, and loved each one. She called back the second week to ask if I could recommend any books on Thomas Merton. I could, as it happened, since he inspired "Running To The Mountain." Merton sparked my move upstate, my search for a spiritual grounding in my life.
Today she called again. Like everyone who deals with them, she loved calling Battenkill Books, appreciate the warmth and courtesy and service. She loved the first Merton book and was eager to sort her way through Merton's many offerings. We talked about some books she might like. I told her how much I loved "Vampire In The Lemon Grove," a new short story collection and suggested some other new books to put on her list. It is getting long and I am mindful of cost. Some people wait for paperbacks, some have e-books, some go to the library. All are welcome. I suspect she will get to most of them in her time. Jackie and I have a connection, the kind of connection that remind us why we need bookstores and want them to survive. And why we need people to survive as well. Our connection is literary – we only know one another through books. Yet a person's love of books can be quite revealing, and I feel as if I know her well. Our relationship means a lot to me, and perhaps to her. I always look for her messages when I get to the bookstore, and am so anxious to share my enthusiasm for some of the books I am reading. I told her that the experiment was doing well – Connie sold a dozen copies of "Times Shadow" within minutes of my review. It was good for me, I said. "Everybody wins," she said, "it's just a good idea."
I wonder about Jackie sometimes, where she lives, who with. What she is like, what her work is. I look forward to knowing her better.
I am pleased to know you Jackie. I consider you a friend. You already know me better than many people in my life who have known me for years. And thank you. For loving writing. For spending a few extra dollars to support a value system that is larger than the cheapest price. For trusting me to guide you to some good work of deserving writers. For loving good writing, a passion sometimes lost in the contemporary scrum. I think if you ever walked through the doorway of Battenkill Books, I would know you. I think I already do.
I like being "Recommender-In-Chief." I might ask Connie for a name tag. Maybe a cap.
This weeks I will be reviewing two books I am very much into: "Middle Men" by Jim Gavin, short stories about the lives of men, and "After Visiting Friends," a mystery by Michael Hainey. Both will be available through Battenkill Books or your local independent bookstore.