The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men and Lorraine in Bookstores

In general, I am not someone who suffers from a lack of self control. I am not a drinker or a smoker; while I enjoy the occasional ice cream (I am human, after all), I’ve been eating healthier for the last couple of years without suffering any major withdrawal symptoms.

But, oh, the thrill of a used bookstore. The dusty shelves! The smell of those yellowing pages! I get excited each time I walk into one, be it a new store to me or an old friend. And no matter how resolved I am to control myself, I usually find myself picking up everything that looks interesting, the end result being that every month or two, I walk in the door dropping armfuls of paperbacks on the landing while a doleful-looking Brian silently considers an intervention (he might literally have reached out to some of you about staging one, and if so I don’t want to know about it).

Well, this time, I figured it would be different. This time I was heading out with a list. I had been researching for weeks and had even saved my handy dandy spreadsheet to my google drive that I could access from my phone. I was only going to buy books I had already identified as things I wanted and didn’t have for my library project. What could go wrong?

First stop: The Book Escape in Federal Hill. One of my favorites around town. They have a delightful little courtyard in between the buildings for fiction and nonfiction (well, delightful in fine weather). And they have a trade paperback fiction section almost unrivaled in Maryland. This was a dangerous first stop, even armed with a list. I shouldn’t have gone in there alone.

Because here’s what happens. I start to find things that aren’t on my list, but look interesting. For example, early on I found I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven. I knew nothing about this book, but apparently it’s a common book that appears on high school syllabi in Canada. Some love it as a simple, beautiful story about environmental preservation. Others (according to goodreads) hated having to read it. Should I add it? It was a dollar, so I added it to the pile.

I found The Beans of Egypt, Maine by Carolyn Chute. I never heard of it either, but when I googled it Google claimed a similar book was Bastard Out of Carolina. The Beans was a dollar too, and Bastard Out of Carolina is another favorite of mine, so I’ll take a chance for a dollar. Why not??


I heard the owl call my name…and instruct me to buy books not on the list.

Then I found a whole cache of books-I-didn’t-know-by-authors-I-did-know. The Nature of Persuasion by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard by Isak Dinesen. Except for Me and Thee by Jessamyn West (author of Friendly Persuasion, which is in turn a classic film from old Hollywood). None of these books were on my list.

Then I found a cluster of books that WERE on my list. Hallelujah! They were all from the 80s: The Carpathians by Janet Frame, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, The Middleman and Other Stories by Bharati Mukherjee, The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton, and Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie. Now we were getting somewhere!

And then I saw The Company of Women by Mary Gordon. Another “one book” author that I’d been trying to find another book by. Eureka! And then I found an old mass market paperback of Ann Beattie’s Chilly Scenes of Winter. Something else I had wanted. Add it to the pile! And then…and then…and then…

By the time I was finished, I had to make three trips to the cash register to get all my books to the front. I hoped no one thought I was crazy. I realized my single reusable grocery bag was going to be insufficient.

“Do I get the prize for most books bought today?” I joked with the guy. “Uhhh…yes, yes you do. “You should put her picture on the wall!” the disembodied voice of one of the older (presumably frequent) customers called out from a few aisles over.

“Well…I’m not going to put your picture on the wall, but I am going to give you a discount, because…” and he just gestured to my giant pile of books and made a face that communicated “the reason for your discount is self-evident.” It certainly was.

But as my great-grandmother used to say about my quirky great-grandfather, “well…some men drink.” Friends, I wish I could tell you that after this early lapse, I behaved better at the Book Nook. And the Book Thing. And Charlotte Elliott…but I’ll have to confess to those sins in my next post.

Also, I wanted to take some time to say THANKS to everyone who has reached out, sent a note on Facebook, via email, carrier pigeon, or whatever, to suggest book ideas for the library. It’s been amazingly helpful and is the main reason why I decided to blog instead of just quietly build the library on my own. Almost all the suggestions I’ve gotten so far have been writers I didn’t think of or aren’t familiar with, which means new writers to look for the next time I venture out to the used book stores – which will be very soon, you can be assured! Thanks again, and keep ‘em coming!

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