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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Come Visit My World

Here is a poem called “The Grandfather Passes,” by Joanne McCarthy. The dedication reads “for William Stafford. The poem is from a new book called Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude, edited by Jim Perlman, Deborah Cooper, Mara Hart and Pamela Mittlefehldt.
Grandfather, speak to us.
Tell us the earth’s story
again, how wind sings
in the marsh, how black rocks
never soften. Tell us the
sound that a mountain makes
after the clear-cut, how
sky holds its breath, what the
brittle river says in winter.
Your words are stronger
than blackberry vines. They
cling to the truth and
worry it. Though your voice turn
to grass, we will listen.

My bookstore is not my whole world—or I might say, it is not my only world—but it is one I have created and in which I live day after day, surrounded by treasures I am eager to share. Today’s new book of poetry, a handsome quality paperbound book that arrived in a shipment of titles ordered for the store, will make a precious gift for some lucky someone. One of the joys of my calling is learning about and sharing books, new and old. It is a privilege of the bookselling life, a life that, like that of the poet, requires certain sacrifices.

Not long ago, I ran a picture of the used children’s shelves, with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys all lined up ready for new homes, but today I want to take you on a general tour of Dog Ears Books, from the front door to the back corners. We won’t cover every shelf, but you will get some idea, I hope, of the extent and variety of this corner of my world.

For most of the summer, the table by the door was stacked with tempting, new-looking used books, something for people to peruse as they gathered courage to plunge on into the store. There’s been a change for the holiday season: the books on that table now were ordered new for stock and have marked down for holiday sale. These are not “previously owned” books, but what’s the sense of carrying so much inventory over the winter into another year? The travel books on this table were carefully chosen so they would not be outdated in 2010.

As you turn into the shop proper, on the left is a table featuring, at present, signed books. Mardi Link is here, along with Doug Stanton, Barry Marsh, Claudia Goudschaal, Tom Shoaff and Ken Wylie. They may not all be in this picture, which I took before I’d filled out the tabletop, but they are here.

Straight ahead, in the conversation corner with the red leather chairs, is a “new” old feature: a bookcase-table combination, featuring “verticality” (shelves) along with a place to set a coffee cup. It’s a funky little piece of furniture David found for me next door at Funky Mama’s consignment shop. Perfect!

The shelves beneath my private art-print wall hold new books. There are Michigan titles (fiction and nonfiction), nature field guides, books on farming and food, dogs and travel, and titles that defy categorization but somehow took my fancy. Just past the new books are “special” books, including (but not only) those in leather bindings, and past the leather is one of my personal favorite groups, the old Modern Library volumes. I discovered ML at the age of 10 or 11 when my mother worked in a bookstore over the holiday season, and I have loved them ever since.

(Higher and lower on these shelves are first editions, science fiction and fantasy, old Westerns, Mark Twain, and more, but you can’t expect to see everything on your first virtual visit.)

Back in the northwest corner, opposite the fiction shelves, are cookbooks, crafts, technical books, and science of all kinds, from insects to outer space. Someone (not David) has pointed out to me more than once that if I “got rid of all that science,” there would be room for much more fiction. Call me crazy. It wouldn’t feel like a bookstore—certainly not my bookstore—without “all that science.”

Another of my favorite book areas is history and travel. Years ago I had those subjects separated, and when someone would ask for books on China or books on France, I would say “Over here are travel books, and over here” (leading the browser to another part of the shop) “is history.” So when the time came for a move, I made an executive decision and combined the two categories. It isn’t what they teach in library school, I’m sure, but it works for me.

Michigan books! Fiction, nonfiction, very old to barely used, this is an important area of an Up North bookstore. See anything here you recognize?

You’ve only seen, at most, half the bookstore, but I’ll stop with the old cupboard and replica barrister’s case that hold some of my old and special volumes. Some of the books in these pieces of furniture can be found on my Dog Ears Books website. It is an eclectic area, for sure, nothing approaching a “category.”

And now I bid you farewell for another day with an image of the lighted globe in the bookstore window on a snowy evening in December. If you were driving past, wouldn’t you want to stop and come in?

P.S. I've had a boatload of technical difficulties this morning and have had to take some roundabout ways to get this post up. If it's a while until the next one, this will be the reason--not that I don't love you all!


Gerry said...

Oh that's a lovely place to sit and choose a book and sip a cup of coffee. And it has such wonderful nooks, not to mention crannies. I like your world.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Gerry. I'm very fond of it myself. And now, here's the latest news: A young Northport friend in graduate school in Ann Arbor will arrive home the Saturday before Christmas and has agreed to play his beautiful guitar music at the bookstore on Sunday afternoon, for my Last-Minute Shoppers Open House. Ben will provide music, I will provide books, punch and cookies, wrapping paper and tags, but it will be BYOR--Bring Your Own Ribbon! That's Dec. 20, 1-4 p.m. Weather permitting, of course!