Bookstores are one of my primary sources of solace. It all began long ago when my friend Jan extended an invitation to join her for coffee at Bookstop on Shepherd. Well, maybe earlier since my Mom instituted my love for the literary. She is an avid reader, and encouraged me as a toddler to flip through tiny books and her magazines during Mom's Reading Time. There are photographs of me in pigtails, sitting on the floor in the center of a circular array of said books and periodicals. It seems finding sanctuary in bookstores was a natural progression. I thought my previous job at the bookstore would be my ultimate career, but buying customer's used books and rude-for-no-reason shoppers were dreadful. Despite the unpleasant, there were benefits, such as shelves of books as far as the eye could see, first dibs on new arrivals, and the glorious employee discount. I stocked up on books with the sincere intention of not purchasing a book for several months after leaving. I left that job at the end of January, and I must brag; I've done quite well in abstaining from books. This means of course that I have not stepped foot in a bookstore as often. My resistance is weak.
However, after a doctor's visit on Monday for minor asthma and a chicken pox vaccine, and a long office wait due to an absent nurse, I chose a bookstore over the token lollipop. I selected the Barnes and Noble near our home and followed my ritual: browse magazines first, check out new fiction writers, meander down the center aisle, veer left towards Christianity, wander seemingly straight ahead to poetry, and backtrack to the main fiction section. I was not planning to buy even one item, but I heard Sirens calling from the Current Affairs section. I grabbed Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher and then Sirens called from the magazines, namely the bottom rack containing writing magazines and literary journals facing a wall of windows.
I've looked at literary journals countless times, but never indulged due to budget concerns, or because they didn't seem necessary. Monday was different. I became intrigued by the graphically-pleasing cover of the NOON journal. I picked it up: nice weight, perfect fit for any of my bags or large purses (I'm never without a book or journal, especially at the doctor's office or a similar boring errand). I flipped through the pages: short stories, poetry, even shorter stories, photography, elegant typeface (Fournier). Back to the cover: black dot in a khaki sky, flock of lambs atop a black hill below the khaki sky. Large, white letters spelled out NOON below the lambs' feet. The cover's layout reminded me of the Crucifixion though the journal's pages did not seem particularly Christian-tinged. I reluctantly placed NOON back on the shelf and picked up recent issues of third coast and GRANTA. They were intriguing as well, but with Crunchy Cons under my arm I could not buy all three journals in good conscience. I placed the two journals back on the shelf, but I did purchase NOON.
I possess a supernatural ability to know whether or not God wants me to buy a particular literary gem. OK, my humanity prevents me from 100% accuracy, but I am usually 95% correct. As a writer it is vital to read broadly; many a writing book have told me so and I accept that justification for my addiction. Thank God I was correct about NOON. As with everything I read, I enjoy the story, but I also study the writing in hopes of learning each author's skill. I even study the punctuation, structure, and other nerdy aspects. Today while reading in my favorite locale, in bed (I took a rare nap), I read an exquisite short story, "The Duchess of Albany" by Christine Schutt. Vivid, sparse, intelligent imagery. A bonus was tucked in: the main character was writing a sestina, a form of poetry unfamiliar to me, a novice. I quickly added all of Schutt's books to my ever-expanding wish list. I might have to go back for third coast and GRANTA. Who knows which writing teacher I might discover in their pages.
Posted by jenni at 3:30 PM