Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Relax, darling

Wandering around a bookstore is one of the greatest experiences ever.

At least, in my life.

Maybe it's the ambiance.  There's something so comforting about it.  The smell of paper beckoning and, if it's a good store, the milky yellowish light.  Whispering music.  Whether it's the Emperor's Concerto, Feist's latest album, or the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack (as was my experience this evening), it always seems to fit.

Maybe it's the fact that so many of my Saturday evenings as a kid were spent wandering the Barnes and Noble.  I was a figure skater at the time.  My parents, sister, and I had this routine where we'd go down to the rink, I'd have my lesson, then we'd go get burgers at Fudruckers or Mexican at Don Pablo's.  There was a Barnes and Noble across the street from the restaurants, and after dinner we'd go over and peruse.  If I was lucky, we'd get slices of chocolate cake.  But, no matter what, my parents would always buy me my choice of the "blue books" as I called them:  The Childhood of Famous Americans series. (Such a super cool kid.  I know.  Not dorky at all.)  My favorite was Thomas Jefferson.  And, yes.  These books can be attributed to my infinite random knowledge of American historical figures.  (Did you know that Harry Houdini aka Ehrich Weiss had a sister named Gladys?)

After our jaunt to the bookstore, we'd get back in the car in time to listen to the second half of "The Story Man", as my sister and I called him.  I'd usually have half of some young American's childhood committed to memory by the time we pulled in the driveway-- having read it in white flashes of headlights of the cars behind us on the highway.  I'd hold the book up so I could see properly, and then I'd have to set it down every ten minutes or so when my arms got tired.

And then, every summer growing up, my dad and I would take a trip to The Cottage Bookshop in Glen Arbor, Michigan.  He'd buy me a book every time.  And, if I'm not mistaken, I think my first ever Harry Potter book came from that store when I was about eight years old. 

I'm always inspired when walking around bookstores.  My dad says that he used to get stressed out walking around bookstores, because all of the books seemed to be taunting reminders of the stories he had yet to tell and hadn't.  It's funny- because that's how I feel nowadays when I watch movie trailers.  I'm glad that, for me, walking around all of those books feels encouraging.  The thought, "Well if all of these authors did it, why couldn't I?" floods my mind.  I'm glad that I'm just a bit blissfully unaware of the story-world, you know?  I feel sometimes that if I got too far into it, it might lose its allure.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll find out some day if it does for me or not.

For what a beautiful day it was today, it was quite the chilly and drizzly evening.  The type of night when you expect to hear sirens screaming all over the place and when you're not quite sure whether or not to use your windshield wipers, but you do anyway and they scrape off the barely-there condensation with an over-indulgent squeak.

I took a leisurely trip to the grocery store, all by myself.  There weren't many people there, given that it was sort of late.  Dreary Tuesday evening and all.  I usually can't handle going into huge places like that by myself.  It overwhelms me a bit too much, so I end up getting the bare minimum and getting out as fast as possible.  But, for some reason, I didn't care so much tonight.  I rambled around, picking up this and that, deliberating on whether or not to buy a crock-pot. (I did, and I'm planning on making some sort of slow-cooked chicken and broccoli monstrosity tomorrow--stay tuned.)  It was nice, because, if I wanted to stop my path and go to the other side of the store to get something before I forgot about it, I did.  It's funny when a stupid thing like going to the grocery store proves relaxing.

On my way out, I passed Barnes and Noble, and I thought, why not?  So, I parked and walked in.  Immediately the stress and anxiety of the day dissipated, and I was left with stories and aesthetically pleasing covers and the warm smell of paper wafting.  I looked through a bunch of my favorite snobby indie-ish magazines that I love but are too expensive to buy.  I wandered through the children's section and the music section and the poetry section and landed somewhere in the middle of fiction.  I always think it's odd that Capote's In Cold Blood is in the fiction section.  I mean, it's narrative non-fiction, isn't it?  No matter.  It is where it is.

Actually, it was somewhere near In Cold Blood, that my eyes caught the title, I Knew You'd be Lovely by Alethea Black.  Something about that really resonated with me.  The concept.  I love the whole idea that little phrase implies.  It's one with which I've always identified so strongly: that moment when expectation and reality finally meet, and reality is lovely.  

I pulled it off the shelf and figured out a bit of what it was.  It's a book of short stories.  I really know nothing beyond that and the first line, which is: "Earlier that evening, under the pale streetlamps, Bradley had sat on a park bench and watched a row of trees carefully gathering snow.  It was as if they were beckoning it, as though the snow were something they'd been wanting to say."  I love that.  The personification of the trees.  It's such a soft beginning, don't you think?  It sounds to me like snow falling.  Light and soft.

I carried it around with me for a few minutes while I wandered a bit further into the depths of Barnes and Noble.  And, on my way out, it was still in my hand, and I didn't want to put it down, so I bought it.  It's sitting on my desk right now.  I'm in the middle of another book right now that my friend Maddie lent me, but I think that this new one will be good for cold-weather reading.  Late Fall/early Winter books are the best.  Simply the coziest.

I came home, put away all the groceries, talked to a friend or two, did all of the dishes.  And, I made the decision to sit here and write this instead of watching umpteen episodes of Frasier.  I'm glad.  It's put a more permanent seal upon my relaxed self.  I'm glad that I'm still at that time in my life during which just a bit of solid effort can at least make you feel as though you're sort of on top of things.  I hope that lasts a while longer.  I don't think I'm quite ready for life to get away from me.

I hope tomorrow is good.  Lovely, even.  I'm sort of dreading my writing class.  It's my turn to be critiqued, and unfortunately the story they're critiquing is one I don't particularly care for.  Alas.  Whatever.  You win some you lose some.  I just hope I don't cringe too much.  One of the more frustrating things is being criticized for something you already know is bad.  Whatever.  I can't do anything about it now.  There's something relieving in that.  Let the chips fall where they may.

So.  What is the point of all this nonsense?  There is none.  Except, go to a bookstore sometime by yourself.  Wonderful things, those bookstores.  A massage chair for the brain.  A little pocket of the universe where everything's already been done a million times, but each is infinitely unique.

I love that.  Only Hemingway could have written the Old Man and the Sea.  Only Shakespeare could have written Hamlet.

And, only I could have written this to you.

Sitting here in my bed with my legs crossed.  The tip of my nose a little chilly, and the rain pinging on the roof.  There's a still-warm cup of tea nudged against my leg.  And, I'm not looking forward to the cold patch that will be there when I get up to brush my teeth.

Photo by Kristen Angelo


  1. your writing is simply lovely. i am going to bring a mug of hot tea to barnes and noble tomorrow and just browse. i love sitting cross legged on the floor sandwiched between shelves and reading for hours (instead of buying the books). :) the employees give me funny looks when they walk by for the seventeenth time, but sometimes i make friends with them that way, too. anyways- i ramble. sigh. though not as eloquently as you can :)

  2. Thanks for the compliment! Bookstores are the best, aren't they?