Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Great American Book Tour, Week 7

It was wonderful to see my friends, Rebecca and Mary, at Parkplace Books in Kirkland, WA, last week. Rebecca and Mary own and operate one of the best independent bookshops in the United States. They may be looking for a new locale in Kirkland in a year or two, at least temporarily. The mall where Parkplace is located will be undergoing extensive renovations. No one had better lay a finger on the beautiful, matched white-oak, floorboards of the events alcove. It’s the loveliest events space in the universe.

Queen Anne Books, in Seattle, has the highest percentage of “shelf talkers” – written bookseller recommendations – I’ve encountered in any bookstore. Patti alone reads 3-5 books a week, and like Jane Laclergue, owner of Fireside Books in Olympia, WA, Queen Anne’s maintains a fine array of their favorite authors’ backlist titles, as well.

Like New England and certain regions in the South, Midwest, and California, the Pacific Northwest is prime indie bookstore country. At Fireside Books, Jane brought out a big and enthusiastic audience for me. Many were members of a book club that had just read my personal favorite of my novels, Northern Borders: the story of a boy who, in 1948, goes to northern Vermont to live with his feuding grandparents. What a lovely evening. Thanks, Jane and staff. I’ll be back.

No West Coast book tour would be complete without a visit to Village Books in Bellingham, Chuck and Dee Robinson’s marvelous emporium of literature, ideas, and good fellowship. As always, I had a large and enthusiastic audience of bibliophiles. Who says the book tour is dead? No way. It’s still the best way I know of to bring together booksellers, readers, and authors in a personal and meaningful discussion about books. Village Books is famous for having done exactly that, for decades.

If you find yourself in the Seattle area with a couple of hours on your hands, please zip north up to Stanwood, just a few miles west of I-5, and about 45 minutes from the Space Needle, to visit Cecily, Gertrude, and the dozen or so other carved snow geese at Kristine Kaufman’s unique indie bookstore of that name: The Snow Goose. Described by many of her colleagues as “the best bookseller in America,” Kristine has a wonderful sense of humor. Recently she invited Cecily (who wears a colorful bonnet and is life-sized and then some) to story hour, and then took her on an outing to the nearby beach. During the winter, tens of thousands of real snow geese from Siberia come south to gorge themselves on the winter wheat that grows in the Stanwood area. For geese and bibliophiles, this is the in-place to be. Cecily and Gertrude’s all-time favorite novel? To Kill a Mockingbird, naturally. Like their somewhat larger barnyard cousins, snow geese (once endangered but now flourishing) mate for life, are fiercely protective of both their young and their spouses, converse companionably in a constant, low gabbling and love to read, especially the classics. Along with turtles and elephants, they’re my favorite animal.

It’s a haul from Bellingham, WA, to Salt Lake City, where I had yet another terrific audience, at the King’s English Bookstore. The King’s English also happens to be the title of my favorite bookselling memoir, by Betsy Burton, whose motto is “Never sponsor an event for a book you don’t love.” I felt flattered, but they had to come pry me out of the fiction room for my event. A whole room devoted to the best fiction in the English language. I could spend the rest of my life there.

I swung a few miles out of my way to visit my favorite Montana trout stream. Never mind just where that is. (It was still iced-over and snowed-in in mid-April.) Saw western hawks, a lone heron, and stream-side willows turning orange, yellow, and pinkish for spring. Thus far I have seen spring coming in Virginia, New Orleans, Phoenix (the desert), California, the Pacific Northwest and, now, in Montana. Still, the maple leaves will just be unfurling when I return to Vermont next week for my New England “saturation tour.” The brook trout ought to be hungry. Me, too – for brook trout!

I finished up my week at Barbara Theroux’s Fact and Fiction, long a literary landmark in Missoula, MT, “at the junction of great trout rivers.” This busy university city doesn’t look much like Norman Maclean’s old cow town with dirt roads, but a fly fisher can still hook a good fish just down the street under the big bridge, and Barbara continues to promote the work of writers from Montana and far beyond with frequent bookstore events.

I hope to return to Montana this summer to fish with my son, Jake, myself. Jake moved to Big Sky Country fifteen years ago, after college, and never looked back. Montana, of course, is the destination of Gus Macrae and Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove. After Kingdom County, VT, it’s my favorite place in the world. I’ll be back – with my fly-rod, next time. In the meantime, watch for my memoir The Great American Book Tour, coming in a year. In it, my road bud, the Talking Jesus of West Texas, and I fish a Montana stream ... go figure!

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