The Joys of a Bookstore

New year, new posts!

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The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles

After a rather lackluster few months, I’m back. And excited to share what I’ve been reading.

I’ve been in a bit of a book slump. Nothing was holding my attention. It’s not that I wasn’t reading– I was doing plenty of that for work– it’s that I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm I usually have for recreational reading.

Because I believe very strongly in recreational reading. I chose to work in publishing because I love to read and share books. If I’m not doing that, then what’s the point? (Because the pay certainly isn’t.)

In early December, I was rooting around for some comp titles for an acquisition, and I kept coming back to two books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. I hadn’t read either, but after scouring online descriptions, reviews, and those first chapter previews on Amazon, they seemed like the right fit. So I added them to the list. On a trip to L.A.’s The Last Bookstore the next week, I spotted both on the shelves and purchased them.

Turns out, they were just what I needed.

I’m going to be writing about both novels later, but the two books have reminded me of the joy of bookstores and the power of finding exactly the right book at the right time. I know that serendipity has changed my life. The influence of the right book at the right time remains a constant for me, but as I’ve noticed over the past few years, bookstores have changed for me.

I have loved bookstores all my life. Hours spent at Bookstar in Studio City, at Vroman’s in Pasadena, at the late Portrait of a Bookstore tucked into Aroma, at Bart’s Books in Ojai. Lately, it’s been McNally Jackson, Shakespeare & Company, and The Last Bookstore.

Bookstores represented the thrill of discovery. I will never forget waiting in line for the next Harry Potter book, wondering what would happen next. I still remember exactly where I was standing when I picked up Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (the Barnes & Noble at San Francisco’s Union Square). I can still tell you about the shelf talkers at Vroman’s.

I love bookstores for the opportunity to discover something new. But lately, that something new has become more elusive. I work with books every day, I flip through Publishers Weekly every Monday, I read Shelf Awareness on an almost daily basis. As a result, I know of most books– especially the books most likely to capture my attention– before they even come out. When I go to a bookstore, I see the same books that have been circling my mind for months.

There are some bookstores that reliably turn up something novel (pun intended). McNally Jackson does an exquisite job of mixing popular reads with gems from smaller presses. I remain impressed by their fiction organization by country and region, which gives greater voice to underrepresented works in translation. I know I won’t see the same 50 books face-out that I always do there.

I get my thrill of discovery these days somewhere else: my inbox. It’s hard to begrudge that. Nothing makes me happier than reading a submission and getting that feeling– a flutter in my chest, a tapping in my feet. I call it “getting hoppy.” I get so excited I (literally) bounce through the office, and I pop into people’s offices because I just have to tell someone about what I’m reading.

And sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get to see finished copies in a bookstore– the kind where I did and still do browse. Because even in a digital world, bookstores are still magic. The right ones lead you to the right book; sometimes one you didn’t know you needed.

And in 2017, we need that more than ever.

Two Great Books, One Bad Reading Month

The Disappearing Spoon and Attachments

I managed to read two recreational books in October. Which is both tough to admit and deserving of some slack. Ask me how many pages I read for work in that same period! It was a lot.

In short, The Disappearing Spoon took me about three weeks to finish. Attachments took me one day. Welcome to my reading life.

The books couldn’t be more different.

I read Sam Kean’s excellent The Violinist’s Thumb a few years ago. Genetics is a pet interest of mine, and I found the book delightful and engaging. It took me a couple years to get to The Disappearing Spoon. I had a bad experience with chemistry in high school, which squelched any possible affinity for the subject. But The Disappearing Spoon made chemistry interesting. Kean has a great way of drawing out personalities and making them fit together into a coherent narrative. The book is full of surprising anecdotes, and he explains science in a way that makes it accessible to the layperson (i.e., me). I’m by no means an expert, but I feel like I’ve made up at least a little of my embarrassing lack of chemistry knowledge.

A couple weeks ago, I was hanging out in a coworker’s office on a Friday afternoon and spotted a copy of Attachments on her shelf. I asked if I could borrow it. I’ve read most of Rainbow Rowell’s books– Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and Landline— but I hadn’t yet made it to her debut adult novel, Attachments.

I read it in one gulp on Saturday. A lot of novels dealing with multiple forms of media and formal techniques (in this case, emails) get bogged down in replicating the exact format. (To; From; Time Sent; Subject; from latest to first message) Attachments did away with that. In fact, the conversations appeared more like instant messages more than emails. Despite taking place around Y2K, it feels remarkably fresh.

The story revolves around Lincoln, the IT guy assigned to read the emails of reporters at a local newspaper. Beth, a movie critic, and Jennifer, a copyeditor, send a lot of personal emails to one another, which get caught in the company filters. Lincoln is supposed to send them a warning, but he doesn’t. Instead, he finds himself looking forward to reading their notes to one another and realizes he’s developing feelings for Beth.

My dad once asked me what the equivalent of a “rom-com” was in books; well, this is it. I loved every second of it.

At times, Lincoln seems a little too good to be true; but so do all of Rainbow Rowell’s male leads. But if you follow her on Twitter (which I recommend) and have seen the incredible creations (culinary, craft, horological) of her husband, can you really blame her?