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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Winter Comes to Northport

The solstice is still in the future, but we have had snow (along with books) in Northport. We’ve also had some early holiday guests at Dog Ears Books.

Saturday morning (early)
Featured Guest Aaron Stander

Saturday was the long-anticipated book signing with Aaron Stander and his #10 Ray Elkins murder mystery, The Center Cannot Hold. Such is Aaron’s popularity that even before he arrived on the scene, his fans were pouring in, eager for face time with the author.

And so, despite gloomy weather, despite the existential crisis I fear Sheriff Elkins in facing (consider the title), we had a cheerful and convivial day in the bookstore. Aaron came all the way up from Interlochen, and Saturday’s customers were from Omena and Cedar, as well as Northport.

Happy customers!
Another visitor: my son

My son, Ian, was visiting from Kalamazoo, also, having arrived on Thursday evening. As the proprietor of a bookshop, I never have a problem entertaining visitors who are book readers — and happily, all of my relatives are readers. So it was that during quiet moments at home and in the shop, as Ian and I sat reading our respective books, every now and then one of us would pause to share a passage with the other. Readers, after all, are not antisocial. We are happy to read aloud to others and often to pass favorite books along to friends. Can’t do that with a pumpkin latte.

Bruce brought me a book

Bruce Balas, my part-time volunteer of many years, recently traveled to England, Ireland, and Scotland, and as he so often does from these international jaunts, Bruce brought back a book for me. This time it was The Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell, a day-to-day account of one little shop selling used books in Scotland.

Each day in The Diary begins with a notation of the number of online orders received, along with how many of the books ordered the bookseller and his crew were able to locate to ship out, thus fulfilling the orders — his rating with the online behemoth selling engine rising and falling accordingly. He notes ruefully that while one of the compensations of self-employment, traditionally, has been not having a boss, the behemoth “is slowly but certainly becoming the boss of the self-employed in retail.” I read that, shivered, and thanked my lucky stars I pulled out of the online selling morass years ago, as prices realized raced to the bottom with no corresponding diminution in time required to process orders. 

(An order for a six-dollar book is as time-consuming as one for a sixty-dollar book, and in an open shop, with a single person working, it makes more sense to focus on live people who have taken the trouble to come through the door. Of course, that means depending on those live people to buy books in the shop so that it can remain open and viable. Word to the wise sufficient?)

The Book Shop in Wigtown sells mostly used books, only a handful of new, and their most popular used books are on the subject of railroads. The proprietor buys considerably more books than I do from private libraries being dispersed and, as I say, is selling online daily. He has a handful of part-time employees (what would that be like?) and a bookstore cat rather than a dog. He lives above his shop. And while he doesn't mention it, I know he drives on the wrong side of the road. All these are differences between his business and mine, but so much of what he experiences is still familiar to me that I keep laughing out loud as I read.

The meat of each day’s diary entry is a narrative including descriptions of weather, stories of shop help’s eccentricities, customer requests and staff responses, expeditions to examine private libraries offered for sale, accounts of local “festival” plans, and the bookseller’s recreational activities on his days off. Following the narrative is the number of customers in the shop that day (he calls them all “customers,” whether or not they spend a shilling) and the total “take” in British pounds.

On the minus side of Shaun Bythell’s observations are the following phenomena, sadly familiar to your bookseller in Northport: people who enter with boisterous proclamations of their love of books and bookstores and buy nothing (so it is not my imagination, and I’m not the only bookseller to have noticed!); those for whom nothing is cheap enough, no matter how much they supposedly “want” it or how many years they have been searching for it; the problem of the behemoth’s pricing algorithm (comments about “cheaper online” made within hearing of the bookseller); etc.

(I am waiting to see if he will mention the dramatic souls who confide with a shudder that bookstores are “very dangerous places” for them, folks who eye me suspiciously, as if I were a dealer in illegal substances luring them, at their peril, into an ambush! And are there in Scotland bookstores the annual visitors who stop by, look around, and sail out each time empty-handed with promises to “see you again next year”? I wonder what they think keeps my bookstore in business from one summer to the next.)

On the positive, brief side of the pro/con ledger — he prides himself on being a “curmudgeon” and tends to accentuate the negative — Bythell describes some of the joys of bookshop life: children who lose themselves in books (“It gives me a glimmer of hope for the future of bookselling  … to see a child reading, their attention rapt in the book to the total exclusion of everything else.”); a regular customer who orders from the shop rather than online (you how who you are, loyal Northport friends!); exclamations he overhears about how “cool” his shop is; the thrill of selling a treasure he’s had on the shelf for a decade and that of discovering another treasure among boxes of books otherwise good for nothing but to sell by weight to a scrap dealer. Occasionally he goes off on a paean of praise for something like historic publishers of quality books or a grump-fest about a planned wind farm he fears would ruin his view. 

There are also nuggets of old-bookish information to enlighten anyone not familiar with the trade, and so, as I read and laugh and share aloud bits to anyone fortunate enough to be nearby (at present, my son and/or the Artist), I keep thinking of others who would enjoy this book. The experienced bookseller would find, as I have, a kindred soul and familiar situations; for the novice or wannabe bookseller, there are useful lessons; and anyone genuinely interested in books and bookstores and human foibles would be amused and entertained.

Books about bookstores, like books about dogs, seem to be increasing in number. Is this indicative of a new and growing appreciation for bookstores and their continued existence? One can hope.

Not that long ago....
And now, Thanksgiving is coming

As Thanksgiving approaches, I am thankful for my years of Up North bookselling, despite the occasional frustrations. Making dreams come true is as much hard work as it is joy, but for me it has been worthwhile. I’m thankful for the Artist’s steadfast support from the beginning; for Bruce’s loyal assistance over many years; and for the collegiality of fellow bookstore owners, especially in northern Michigan (real booksellers, in my book, are those with open shops, willing to meet the public face to face). 

I am ever grateful for the generosity and talent and professionalism of authors it has been my privilege to meet and know in the course of the last quarter-century; for parents who bequeathed to me and my sisters a love of reading and respect for books; for other parents and teachers who have done and continue to do the same for children in their lives. 

And always I am thankful to my customers, both local and visiting, first-time tourists and returning summer people, all who continue to show their appreciation for my bookstore by buying books in Northport, at Dog Ears Books, on Waukazoo Street. That’s what keeps my bookstore here! Thank you all! May your holiday be blessed! You have all been blessings in my life!

“Going Forward”

(As if there’s any other way we can go, eh?)

In 2015 I called my winter away from Michigan a sabbatical. I didn’t give it a name in 2018. Now, however, still working long summer and fall days as younger friends and relatives retire, I have decided that “seasonal retirement” is a more meaningful term. 

This year the Artist and I will be away from home and our places of business from December through April, our longest absence from ever. You’ll be able to follow our adventures (as in previous, shorter absences) here on “Books in Northport,” should you be so inclined. Meanwhile, for the more immediate future, here is the plan for Dog Ears Books for the remainder of November:


Tuesday, 11/20: OPEN 10-2:30 (need to close early to keep an appointment)

Wednesday, 11/21: OPEN 11-5 (Take a bookstore break from mixing up cranberry relish and bread stuffing and baking pies.)




Sunday, 11/25 CLOSED



Wednesday, 11/28: OPEN 11/5 HOLIDAY SALE CONTINUES



Saturday, 12/1: Who knows? Not sure yet! Friday, 11/30, may be our last day of the season, so don’t wait for December 1st to do your holiday shopping at Dog Ears Books!

1 comment:

twessell said...

Pamela, enjoy your well-deserved ‘seasonal retirement’ and come back safe. Northport needs Dog Ears Books!