Last week we took the kids to a great second hand bookstore called 2nd and Charles. It was vast. Since they weren’t bound to recent bestsellers, we found all kinds of treasures that Barnes and Noble doesn’t stock and the library has forgotten. I found a great copy of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, and my sweet Abbey walked out with a stack of books — $1.50 for Emily of New Moon. You can’t find that anywhere!
Got me thinking about my deep and insatiable love of books, the slow, sad, extinction of the indie bookstore, and the places I absolutely need to go before I die. So here’s my Book Loving Bucket List — three author’s haunts to explore, three experiences to plum, and three places to shop. All of the photos below are links to fuel your own daydreams. Enjoy!
Vermont is one of the only states back east I’ve never visited, and Robert Frost is such a favorite. While I’m at it, I’d love to swing over to Amherst and visit the Emily Dickinson house (and maybe Mark Twain’s, Louisa May Alcott’s… OK, maybe just a dozen or so in New England. Why not?) I think Frost’s words and his landscape were so wedded, you’d feel you were walking into a poem. “A breeze discovered my open book / And began to flutter the leaves to look.”
There are scads of Jane Austen tours that take you through the countryside she knew and loved, but of course, the must-see spot is her actual house. I can only imagine it’s packed. All the time. Because Mr. Darcy! Emma! Says Miss Austen, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Wow, Jane. Don’t hold back.
Little bit influenced by the scenery, not gonna lie. I am loving reading Les Mis right now, but it is work in spots, for sure. But Guernsey! And not only would I need to pack Les Mis, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is one of my all-time favorites. I might need to stay for a week. Clear the calendar.
Y’all, this looks so great. Last night when I couldn’t sleep I started daydreaming about a writer’s museum. Why is there not one? It was a happy thought, and when I googled it today, lo and behold, there’s one coming! And I don’t even particularly like Chicago — but now it’s on the list. Yippee.
So The Rabbit Room is more of an online destination, and it is fantastic. Enough distraction to derail a month of workdays. But they actually do host really incredible events, often at the Art House in Nashville, pictured above. They have this crazy idea that art and music and faith and stories all flow out of the same great place. I don’t have the chutzpah to join in, but I’d love to be a fly on the wall. From their website, “Through books, movies, theater, and other media, the magic of storytelling has the power to shape not only our minds, but the world around us. And story, like music, has the kind of magic that not only draws people closer to one another, but draws them further up and further into the great Story.”
The Glen Workshop is the brainchild of Image Journal and Seattle Pacific’s MFA program. I torture myself by looking into it every year and then not going. (Money. Sad but true.) Participants in the MFA go to two residencies per year, one in Whidby Island, one in Santa Fe. The Santa Fe version is open to non-MFA students as well, and brings in an amazing assortment of artists from many disciplines, authors, and crazy respected speakers. Someday, friends. Someday.
So it’s not better than Guernsey. It doesn’t beat Santa Fe. But it’s practically local, a mere 8 hours away. I’ve been to Signs of Life (the only one on the list with this distinction) several times, and it’s my favorite bookstore in the world. So very cool. Like The Rabbit Room and The Glen, this little gem is saturated in an Art/Faith/Mystery worldview that embraces visual arts, poetry, theology, and literary fiction. There’s a café for chatting, a gallery for contemplating, and lotsa books.
I love the whole gutsy story of The Last Bookstore. You have got to click on the link above and watch this beautiful little story, of a guy who was pretty broken, who nevertheless had vision and determination, who built maybe the coolest bookstore you’ll ever see. Redeem your next visit to LA with something extraordinary.
I think I could live here forever. It is the land of books. An entire village of bookstores. And where the books aren’t shelved in shops, they’re shelved up and down the streets and ruined castle walls, honor system style. Just be sure to buy a round-trip ticket or you’ll spend all your traveling money and be stuck there forever. Unless that’s not such a bad thing, after all.
I have been thinking a lot lately about goals. There’s been an empire of self-help books built on Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely goals, goals that get results. Michael Hyatt, in his recent book Platform, devotes a good deal of time to the subject, giving helpful examples like: “Make one hundred thousand dollars a year doing what I love. Lose 25 pounds and complete a half marathon.” Think big, he says; write down the vision for what you set out to do and work backwards. If I want to lose 25 pounds, what will I have to do? How many calories to cut? How many miles to jog?
It is pragmatic, effective, logical. You decide what you’re going for and dissect the goal into small steps. But where is the intersection of faith and action, dreams and practicality? What if the goals are the wrong goals? It strikes me that there is a big difference between being goals and doing goals — who is it I want to be vs. what is it I want to do? For a writing career, it might look like this:
impactful writing career vs. NYT bestseller list
with discipline, write every day vs. produce one published work every year
pursue excellence in a variety of forms, challenging myself vs. narrowly focus on a currently hot niche and develop a brand
writing as vocation vs. earn a specific dollar amount yearly
The SMART goals, the ones you can really work toward, might propel you into incredible success, but the vaguer, being goals, might shape you into the writer you really want to be. Jane Austen was surely the least popular of her contemporaries, but who remembers any of them? Austen didn’t write to bring home the bacon, and in her lifetime she saw little success, but today she is studied and much-loved. Hyatt would argue that you won’t so much as get a chance to be heard if you aren’t strategic; I can’t disagree. But who will you be at the end of the day?
It’s really not hard to conjure up an entire place and time with just a few choice words.
Who says “bully-o!” anymore? or “grody”? (Well, I might, once in a while, but then I also persist in eating creamed chip beef, so apparently I am not really all that rooted in the times.) Certain foods, once all the rage, have been banned from decent tables; clothing styles not only come and go, but make us scratch our heads and question the sanity of the wearers; grammar is nothing but a fad; and music that made audiences swoon makes us cover our ears and run for the exits (Ethel Merman, anyone?)
I just read a great defense of Les Mis from a NY Times editorial by Stanley Fish. Great article, and roundly lambasted in the comments by more enlightened viewers, most of whom couldn’t resist being derisive and snarky. Which is ironic, because the whole point of the article was that Les Mis is out of step with the times in its lack of snark. It is not ironic enough for our postmodern critics.
But I think old Fish is on to something. Irony in small doses has of course been around since people learned to crack a joke, but is so prevalent now that I think it is one of those generational tics that will make us instantly identifiable/laughable in years to come. Pull a Generation X or Y quotation out of context in the year 2100 and ask a reader when it came from. Irony will be the giveaway.
Here’s what Fish said: “Irony is a stance of distance that pays a compliment to both its producer and consumer. The ironist knows what other, more naïve, observers do not: that surfaces are deceptive, that the real story is not what presents itself, that conventional pieties are sentimental fictions.
“The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.”
Ironically, the ironist can’t stand back from his irony and see how commonplace and overdone his smugness really is.
We are trained to be critical, scornful, and haughty. We are too smart to have a simple emotion, too savvy to be taught, and always quite pleased to point out our superiority to the simple peasants who lack our sophistication. For all of our fair-minded, equality-driven lingo, we are a bunch of snobs.
This has to account in hefty degree for the decline of faith in our culture. With the eyebrow always cocked and the smirk never far off, how could we possibly embrace lofty ideals, simple black-and-white moralism, or acceptance of invisible realms and miraculous events? It’s just not possible. Who would willingly throw their lot in with the village idiot?
Well, I would. But then, I’m also the girl who likes a little cheddary cream on my beefy toast. Clearly I have refined opinions.
How’s the climate in publishing? When was the last time you saw a mainstream book that dared to be simple and beautiful, no whine of sarcastic undertone? Oh, it will happen again, like hipster fashions that make the nerdy new. So subversive! And the Chandler Bings of the world will start to seem anachronistic and vain. At least, that’s what we simpletons are banking on. It’s tough to be so far ahead of the times.
I don’t feel like writing, some days. Don’t feel like making supper, or cleaning out the refrigerator and identifying the source of that smell. Don’t feel like doing much of anything, truth be told, but snugging up under the covers and reading about somebody else… somebody who does something besides pull up the covers.
So you sigh, look out at the gray day, pull out the butter, the chicken, stir the sauce. And slowly the house fills with a nice warm smell (thank goodness), and you aren’t enjoying the fat quilt, but you figure you might as well enjoy dinner. Or you pull out the keyboard, stare down the screen, face down the really purple prose, knock it down and start over. And it’s not as good as that book you were reading, but it’s work, and at least at the end of the day there’s something to show for it. And surely it’s better than Snoopy’s.
“Best part?” he asks every night at supper. And the kids shout out, especially the happy ones,
“Playing with Legos and building a Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Velociraptor!”
“Eating doughnuts for breakfast!”
“Being here with you, Dad.” That one makes a regular appearance, equal parts delightful and deliberate.
But some days the kids are grouchy, ungrateful, little fists holding their grudges tight. And some days you wake up to gray skies and the dread in the stomach, and the hours stretch in front of you scary. There isn’t liable to be a best part those days.
So what happens if you stack your odds? Make a moment that will make the list, on purpose. Gonna be a crummy day? Let’s have pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes are good. Or I’m not going to get it all done anyway, so let’s take 30 minutes to head to the park. That’s worth a smile. Light a candle, play an 80s song, eat chocolate, wear the funny socks, send a card… And what if you don’t save the best for last, but grab the best first?
I am learning, day after homeschooling day, that being stingy with rewards — the nice thing will come after I get the desired results — is usually frustrating. I am rewarding something that’s not really good enough, or withholding a reward that someone self-righteously feels they deserve, holding the stick and carrot high all the day, wheedling. Why not give big first — this is grace — reap the smiles, sail into the hard things with a breeze at your back and the sun on your face?
I learned this first as a writer from Annie Dillard. In The Writing Life, she says: “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
So wise. The manna hoarded for the next morning turned to rot. The laugh withheld turns to sighs. Might as well start your day happy, and who knows? Maybe that will change the whole day.
They say pastors need soft hearts and thick skin. Don’t we all?
So you write a book, you put it out there, ay yay yay! Here come the critics. And you can stick your fingers in your ears and sing it out, “I can’t hear you…” or you can take a deep breath, listen attentively, and grow a little, as a writer, and more importantly, as a person. It is hard to be critiqued, to let someone take aim at you and brace for impact. Hard, too, to not let that thick skin turn into a hard heart in self-defense.
But it’s also hard to offer critique. How can you tell your best friend they are a little… well, wrong? How can you tell your son that his sorrow is turning into self-pity? How do you tell a writer that chapter one needs an overhaul. Most of the time, we just don’t. But faithful are the wounds of a friend.
Today, I had to return a review on authonomy. The fellow gave me a nice review and then badgered me for my opinion. Honesty is the best policy, but I was careful to balance out my needs-improvement comments with some great-job. Sigh. He was not a happy camper, and promptly rescinded all of the nice things he’d said about me. Now I am afraid to speak my mind (never easy for spineless me anyway).
But here’s the thing — praise is meaningless if it’s false, and the habit of ear-tickling brings the whole sorry stew to a new level of stink. If that’s not bad enough, it only delays the inevitable public humiliation when the much-applauded work (writing or whatever) receives its comeuppance from on high. (The day will come!)
This is hard in parenting, too. Tell your kid too often that he’s perfect and he will begin to believe it. Chances are he’s not. But it is so much easier to woo with over-vaulted compliments than hold a high standard.
At the end of the day, whose advice do you value most? Whose critiques have shaped you?