Up and down the east coast, there are used and/or independent bookstores that I like to always stop in when I’m in town – Autumn Leaves in Ithaca, Chop Suey Books in Richmond, Labyrinth Books in Princeton, Royal Oak Bookshop in Front Royal, Virginia, and on and on.
I like to follow the stores on Facebook (everyone should keep up with WonTon the cat at Chop Suey – he is regularly photographed doing cat things around the store, including celebrating Caturday every Saturday afternoon!) so that I feel like I’m supporting them, even if I can’t be there in person often, and I always recommend them as a stop for folks traveling through those cities.
Add Forget Me Not Books in Fairbanks, Alaska to the list of bookstores I’ll always stop into when I’m in town (which is about once a year for work). The store is sponsored by the Literacy Council of Alaska, which my mother will be happy to hear, as she is a regular volunteer for literacy here in Maryland. They had a great selection of fiction and poetry (the last time I was here, I bought an old Joy Harjo poetry book from the 80s and consumed it in one go on the plane ride home).
They also have a great selection of vintage and Alaska-oriented books. Although that’s not what I focus on (and lord knows I’m subsumed enough by books as it is without starting another library collection!), they had some really fascinating things that were really enjoyable to browse through.
I also liked listening in on the conversations. Since the literacy council’s offices appear to be in the same building, folks were stopping by for volunteer and teaching opportunities. I also heard some donations for the store being dropped off and, full and fair disclosure, I shamelessly eavesdropped on a local conversation about making a birthday cake in a dutch oven. It turned out great without burning, in case you’re wondering!
It’s a good thing I checked a bag and left a lot of extra room in my luggage. Some wonderful soul had donated all three of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset. Who? Why, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Before this women’s library project, I never would have heard of her either. But now that I had researched early women winners of major literary prizes, her name was familiar to me, so I knew what I was looking at when I found them on the shelves. In great shape, too!
I was attracted to Mildred Walker’s Fireweed first because Mildred Walker is a Western writer that has been a bit forgotten by the modern era, but secondly because I’d been seeing beautiful fireweed in bloom all throughout my trip to Denali and Fairbanks (I’d even bought my mother a fireweed-covered ceramic trivet as a souvenir), so I was feeling sentimental about buying a book in Alaska called Fireweed.
I always like to take a chance on a book I know nothing about, and this time around that was Janette Turner Hospital’s Oyster. Then there’s the truly peculiar purchase for the day – Leonora Dalrymple’s Diane of the Green Van. It was clearly a vintage, out-of-print book that I’d never heard of. When I opened the book, the first page informed me that Dalrymple had won a competition award of $10,000 in 1913 to publish this book. That would be $254,550 today. That’s a pretty hefty prize!
I found that compelling enough to give the book a go. Will the book be any good? We will find out. But I’m particularly interested to read the book and find out, since most pre-1920 fiction I have in the library belongs to the usual suspects – Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. So I am hoping to add a little variety to those early years. And if it’s utter rubbish hopefully it’s at least interesting rubbish.
Sigrid Undset, buckle up…
The plane ride back was another long stretch for reading. I finished Great Plains Literature, which covered some writers with whom I was well familiar (Cather and Olsen, Louise Erdrich) and mentioned a few I’ll have to look for in the bookstores, or possibly online (Mari Sandoz and Lois Phillips Hudson). I started Gayl Jones’ Corregidora and wow – a brutal book that feels like a punch to the face but so masterful.
Lastly, I finished Krik? Krak! It was as wonderful to finish was it was to begin. And what do you think was waiting in my mailbox when I returned from the west? A special delivery – the return of my beloved copy of The Bell Jar plus a special bonus – The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat! Not sure if Penny knew I had been reading Krik? Krak! when she sent me another Danticat or if that was a wonderful coincidence, but I am so excited to start on another of her books.
…Once I adjust back to Eastern Time, that is! Happy reading, y’all.