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Friday, November 5, 2010

Of Cabbages and Bookstores

Which way to go today on the blog? A discussion of varieties of power or yet another heartfelt attempt to explain the realities of bookselling? Two unappealing alternatives—and a false dilemma, to boot? Some other, cheerier direction?

Okay, how about this? We had our first stick-to-the-ground snow this morning, the only kind of snow I count as the first of the season. The snow has not yet covered up the winter cress, however, and I was able to harvest a bit yesterday afternoon to liven up a salad of tofu and snow peas. Winter cress, also known as yellow rocket, is a member of the mustard family, Cruciferae, which falls under the order Papaverales. The order includes poppies and capers, but it is in the crucifer family that we find most of the tasty bits—mustards, rockets, cresses and, in the kitchen garden, radishes, cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. Crucifers are strong in flavor. Those little flowers on the long stalks of the radishes you didn’t get pulled early in the season don’t have to go to waste, either: their peppery taste will pep up a salad beautifully. That’s a tip from a forager and negligent gardener.

Gleason’s Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada (1952, three volumes, and yes, I have it in stock) looks at crucifers differently.
No family of flowering plants is more easily recognized than the Cruciferae and no other offers so many difficulties in the classification of species into genera or the arrangement of genera according to their relationship....

For satisfactory identification, mustards should be collected late in their blooming season when flowers are still present and the older fruits are full-sized. [That would be now in northern Michigan.]

Why is it that I so often fall in love with plants that defy classification? I’m no botanist so am handicapped to begin with. Hawthorns are another enigma, hybridizing so wildly that experts given leaves from different parts of the same plant may classify them differently. If there are any poisonous crucifers, though, I haven’t heard of them, and so I gather my bouquets happily and add them to our meals with confidence.

There, that should be enough of a discussion to establish that I have a range of interest beyond pecuniary matters. But about this bookselling business? My daily “Shelf Awareness” newsletter (it arrives by e-mail) led off yesterday with a quote by an author about how bookstores would always be around because people like to hang out in them, drinking coffee and fooling around on their laptops. I was not the only bookseller who shook her head over this professional writer’s naive view of what it takes to keep a bookstore open. Kris Kleindienst of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri, wrote:
I'm not sure people realize what it takes to have charming bookstores/gathering places for readings and socializing. It takes only one thing: people buying books from bookstores. That's it. That's all we need to be "absolutely, positively, completely alive."

There you have it, folks. That all it takes. That is the necessary condition for our survival. That’s what “supporting your local bookstore” means, and without that support, in the words of Bob Dylan, "a hard rain's a'gonna fall" on a lot of cozy gathering places.


Anonymous said...

I foresee a future of CSBs (Community Supported Bookstores). One pays a sum for the privilege of coming to the store once each week for a basket of nourishment for the soul. Some weeks are lush, others lean. It depends on the Publishing Climate and the fertility of writers' imaginations at any given time . . .

I expect CSBs will offer mostly Local Mindfood rather than highly processed mass market books. The members will be extraordinarily loyal. Their children will be very interesting, and they will never be bored.

I think it has possibilities. And there would probably be excellent treats involved.

P. J. Grath said...

Gerry, you are a GENIUS! CSBs, indeed! I'm going to put my own much feebler mind to work on this idea over the winter....

Did you notice that I was wearing winter gloves (red) when gathering the winter cress? I did love seeing that bright yellow in the dull brown landscape.