Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Keeper of Secrets

I don't blog. It's been a year since my last post. I leave the blogging to the people who are much better at it than I am like The Book Lady's Blog.

But once in awhile, like in my last post, I feel a need to talk about what it means to be a bookseller...and what it means to create a place, a bookstore family, where people feel at home. Maybe they feel more at home with us than they do with their own families.

For probably the tenth time in my bookselling life, a customer came up to me with a question she couldn't even share with a family member: Where are your books on abusive relationships? I gently said "We don't have a bunch, but what kind of abuse are we talking about? Physical? Verbal?"

"Everything", she said. She was shaking.

I gave her a list of books I recommend. I gave her a list of hotline numbers to call. I gave her directions to the library nearby and the women's shelter. I touched her shoulder.

People will go look for a book sometimes before they call the cops, seek a shrink or talk to a friend. It's a first step. And a reminder that all of us as booksellers are doing an important job every day.

If it's placing the trashy vampire book in the hands of a stressed-out corporate executive, selling a book on pregnancy to a single mom, slipping some silly sci-fi to the supreme court's all safe here brothers and sisters.

Your secret is safe with me. And all my staff.

Want to know what Sir Anthony Hopkins reads? I ain't tellin' ya. Wonderful customer for a couple of years when he was filming here, but his reading choices are his business.

Besides...if I told you...he might eat my liver.

All kidding aside...

Want to keep your reading privacy safe? Indie bookstores and libraries are the only places with a record of caring about that. Consider a donation to ABFFE, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. They protect your privacy in the age of the Patriot Act...which has a lot of good things in it, but a not good thing is access to your book purchases and library loans. Reading a book is not a crime. No matter what that book is about.

And with regard to my customer from Friday...I hope she got a start to some answers. I hope I made a difference. I'm glad she felt that she had walked into a place where there was someone she could trust. And that moment makes every minute of the last 22 years worth it and important.

1-800-799-SAFE (National Domestic Abuse Violence Hotline)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Fountain Bookstore Family

I talk a lot about "The Fountain Bookstore Family" in the shop. In the last few weeks I've had a chance to really think about what that means to me.

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of one of our customer family members. I didn't know Mark very well...mainly through her orders which were delivered to her out in the country by the former owner of Fountain, Boo Smythe.

She was one of my favorite kinds of readers: she'd find out about an author and then immediately have to have all of the author's collected works. Loved series writers, excellent taste in mysteries. Her orders and the obvious thirst behind them always made me smile. I'll miss her.

It was unseasonably cold at the Fork Church cemetery, but the warmth of the small congregation (its own family) welcomed me as we said goodbye to someone much loved and respected. Fork Church celebrates its 275th anniversary this year. That's something special.

Boo and Jim Smythe belong to this church. While I've thanked them privately for the space they gave me in the Fountain Family back in 2000 when they first brought me in, I'd like to make a special thanks to them now publicly for showing me what it can mean to own a community bookstore, to make it a place that is welcoming, nurturing and playful. A place that provides solace, a needed respite, a good belly laugh. A place you belong.

Joyce Clay was the first owner of Fountain in 1978. I owe her a debt of thanks as well for recognizing Richmond's need for a good independent bookstore. The Smythe's took over in 1985. They passed the baton in 2008 to me.

I hope they made a good choice. On my best days, I feel up to the task.

I delivered a few books to Kuba Kuba the other day: my "first baby" present to Manny Mendez for his boy Noah. Manny's the owner of Kuba Kuba...and if you haven't eaten there, well, you're missing something. (Yes, I'm a year late, I know). Among the selections was Me Hungry! I picked it because I think the caveman daddy looks like Manny...just a little.

Another group in the Fountain Bookstore Family is the Anderson-Ellis clan. Three generations of wonderful readers. I had the pleasure of knowing little Sophie's parents before they even met and now she's reading. It's a beautiful thing.

The Family extends outside just the customers and my wonderful staff (who deserve their own blog post...stay tuned) to the authors. Far too many to mention, but I will mention Gigi Amateau
(and her great mom, husband and daughter). Again, our author friends deserve an entire post...probably several

And we get new family members all the time! We recently welcomed Rebecca Schinsky to the family. She's an exceptionally sharp book blogger. Find her at The Book Lady's Blog . One of those people who instantly "got it".

My point in bringing up individuals (Mark, the Anderson-Ellis's, Manny, Rebecca and Gigi) is not to single them out to the exclusion of the rest of the Fountain Family, but to illustrate that you
are individuals to us. To me.

Every time you walk through the door: you're a part of it.

Every time you share with me a book you love: you feed it.

Every time you tell someone else about us: you build it.

I was tempted to end this post with "Amazon: Bite me." But they're a fact of life and I don't begrudge any business's right to exist. Besides, Boo would be very, very disappointed in me. (I am trying to clean up my trash mouth and my attitude Boo, I promise.)

Instead, I'll imagine Mark up in the sky with all the books and all the health and time she needs to read them. I'll think about Noah and Sophie and storytime. Who knows? Maybe they'll meet in 25 years and have little readers of their own! And if I'm very, very lucky, maybe I'll get to buy them their "first baby" book then.

You change the world every time you step through our doors. My gratitude is beyond measure.

Thank you for being part of the Fountain Bookstore Family.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Ultimate Road Trip: Brought to You by Garden & Gun Magazine

I have this dream of the ultimate road trip.

I'd start with a full tank of gas, my (mostly) trusty map application on my phone, and a couple of grand in cash to spend on books....and I'd head South. This dream has been pretty vague until recently when I checked my mail slot and in it was the February/March issue of Garden and Gun.

I have a black thumb, no interest in firearms or hunting dogs. So, why do I have a subscription to G&G? Simply put: G&G is one of the best sources of information on the culture of the New South. It's smart. It doesn't pander. It is full of articles on everything Southern in food, music, literature and lifestyle.

In this month's issue is a great essay about parenting compared to gun dog training ("Fetch Daddy a Drink") by P.J. O'Rourke, a feature on oyster eating around the South, a piece on Jill McCorkle. But most importantly: the guidebook for my road trip.

"Best Sellers: A Literary Tour of the South's Top Independent Bookshops" by Beth Ann Fennelly highlights fourteen stores, many of whom are the inspiration of what I hope I can achieve with The Fountain one day. (Yep, I'm a dreamer.) Let's start with the ones I've already visited.

Malaprops in Asheville, NC

Emoke B'racz was one of my early role models as a bookseller. A clearly defined personality for your bookstore is a difficult thing to develop. Malaprops' selection of books, attitude of its staff, layout, everything speaks to the mission of being Asheville's community bookstore. Linda Barrett Knopp has a great deal to do with its success as well.

Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL

Mitchell Kaplan and his crew shine almost as much as the floors in this bright, inviting store. When I visited, my ego demanded that I find at least one indication of imperfection so that I didn't have to come back to Richmond and close immediately due to shame. I did eventually find one light bulb out, but it took an hour and it probably went out seconds before I noticed it. Still, it was enough that I could come home, keep the doors open and start dreaming about my very own wine bar in my store.

Now to the stops I need to make.

Square Books in Oxford, MS

Manager Lyn Roberts and I have been known to bend an elbow from time to time. And the stories touring authors tell me about the hospitality of owner Richard Howorth demand I make time to go to Oxford. Purely on the basis of meeting these two booksellers I know that a trip to Square Books would make me feel like I'd found a second home.

Page & Palette in Fairhope, AL

Raw energy and passion is what I'll find at Page & Palatte! Karin Wilson owns this family operation. I imagine a bookstore filled with electric excitement about books and reading. Must make time to attend an event....they sound like block parties.

That Bookstore in Blytheville in Blytheville, AR

Mary Gay Shipley has been a bookseller to watch before anyone was watching booksellers. I have to see a store owned by a woman that is described in G&G as the world's best handseller...enough so that she was featured in a profile in the New Yorker.

Book People in Austin, TX

I just want to sit in the barber's chair and read away the afternoon. Fountain is about 1/30th of the size of Book People. I'm not sure how owner Steve Bercu does it. Here's to hoping he can spare me a few minutes to recommend some great music venues while I'm there.

Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, AL

I've been threatening to couch surf at Jake Reiss's house for years. Alabama Booksmith has one of the most robust events calendars in the nation. I think it mainly has to do with so many authors just wanting to visit Jake.

What's keeping me from hitting the road and visiting these fine shops and Lemuria, Regulator Bookshop, A Capella Books and so many other worthy candidates not mentioned in the article? Well, two things:

1. Age has visited upon me an unfortunate condition: narcolepsy brought upon by long-distance driving. No joke. So, for everyone's safety, I'll need a driver.

2. Finding someone to take care of Fountain while I'm gone. Applicants for the position should demonstrate a unwavering devotion to the caregiving of a community bookstore equivalent to my colleagues listed above. I don't expect I'll find this person as they are rare indeed. But one can dream.

Thank you to Garden and Gun for sharing with the world a few of our Southern jewels.

Kelly Justice, President
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thankfully Reading Weekend

This is the best idea I've seen in awhile...

The Fountain Bookstore is a little wonky as a retail establishment as we're not all that busy on the weekends being in a downtown business district.

That means that I have weekends off most of the year to read!

So, unlike my fellow retail warriors, I will be able to participate in this event enthusiastically and without guilt for not being in the shop.

Join me!

"Welcome to the very informal Thankfully Reading Weekend. Jenn from Jenn's Bookshelves gets full credit for coming up with the idea. She happened to tweet that she was going to have a fairly quiet U.S. Thanksgiving weekend and was hoping to spend much of that time catching up on her reading. Almost immediately Jen from Devourer of Books and Beth from Beth Fish Reads chimed in, saying what a great idea that was. And thus the birth of Thankfully Reading Weekend, which will start on Friday, November 27 and end on Sunday, November 29." Read More Here...

I'm looking for suggestions for a big, fat, new novel to swallow whole that weekend. I've already read Wolf Hall and loved it, so that's out as is the new John Irving which is great if you're a John Irving fan...probably not as fun if you're not.

So, post here or come by the shop and tell me what you'll be reading. I'll post to #thankfulreading on Twitter.

Now you have an excuse to spend a few moments away from your family (they'll be watching football anyway) and have some quality YouTime. Your bookseller approves.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lee Bros.: Will You Marry Me?

...or (in order to keep from violating several state laws and generally accepted social conventions) maybe you could just come sign at my shop?

I got a preview copy at the store a few months ago and have since purchased a hardback for myself and it is definitely my present of choice for this holiday season.

Perhaps I should just list the top 10 reasons for my devotion....

1. Lemon and Cucumber Pickles
I think I went through about 8 quarts of these myself this summer. I also took jars to garden parties for friends. (great on a grilled burger!)

2. Celery Julep
Refreshing! About the only summer libation I prefer as much is The Green Lantern.

3. Cheese Relish
A variation on pimento cheese made with Swiss, capers and banana peppers rather than cheddar and roasted red peppers. Is it good for me? No. And I don't care.

4. Radish Butter
So weird I had to try it. Lovely on rye toasts. Pretty as the magenta picture you painted. Stunner for entertaining.

(have I said thank you yet for the fact that none of the recipes so far take more than 10 minutes to prepare?)

5. Oyster Soup
While it will never replace the traditional oyster stew that I eat every Christmas morning (a deeply simple recipe from my mother that just means Christmas to me), this charmer of a dish will be a staple for the rest of the year's special occasions.

6. Skillet Green Beans with Orange
Boring old green beans for dinner? Not anymore! Inexpensive and gorgeous in a plain white bowl.

7. Pimento-Cheese Potato Gratin
Say goodbye to mac and cheese. This is my new comfort food. How do you two stay so svelte? Dancing on that porch you're always mentioning, I guess.
Whoa! Just checked my Facebook mail and there's a thumbs up there for this recipe from an editor of Blackbird Magazine (and confirmed foodie). That's almost a little creepy.

8. Smoked Shrimp with 3 Dipping Sauces
Now I know why I bought that stovetop smoker!
(It's an illness...I know...I'm trying to stop...but honestly a stovetop smoker is absolutely a necessary item for any kitchen...along with the 10s of dozens of other random items I seem to have accumulated....well, maybe not the quesadilla maker with the handle shaped like a chili pepper...I told you...I'm sick.)
And you're so conscientious for kindly giving instructions to make your own MacGuyver-style if people don't have one.

9. Fig and Bourbon Compote
Equally versitile as a dessert topped with lightly sweetened whipped cream or as an condiment for roast pork. Yum.

(cue the angel chorus)

10. Whole Roasted Chicken with Potatoes and Onions
Sounds boring, right? I thought it did, but the true test of any cookbook (or any cook) is the humble roasted chicken. Mainstay entree of the suburban family and the single bookseller. Affordable, available, and so, so easy to $#&* up...usually by trying too hard.
My 99 year old Eastern Kentucky Granny gave me her cast iron skillets when she quit cooking (and you fellas know how important a gift like that was the only thing I asked for when she moved to the home). The bird sits proudly in one of those coal-black, seasoned beauties and looks (and tastes) like a million bucks. Genius.

So, I apologize for missing our two first dates:
  • BookExpoAmerica 2008 Fried Chicken Party (I was stuck in a cab on the Brooklyn Bridge)
  • SIBA (Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) Trade Show 2009 dinner...I was supposed to be at your table, but I got the flu
Let me make it up to you by hosting a party for you and every foodie in Richmond. Trust me. I know them all.

Cheers, Boys. And thank you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Verdict Is In: My Most Successful Love Affair

Nobody expects love to be perfect.

Well, I did at one time, but I think I was 12. Oh no, wait, 11. By the time I'd turned 12 Richard H. laughed at me in 6th grade when I expressed my undying devotion in the auditorium before the day's classes started in middle school.

Your loss, dude.

Since then, I've just expected it to be somewhat less than the excrutiating anguish of, say, a full afternoon of waxing.

Hey...keep your expectations low.

Despite this strategy, most of it has been kind of on par with said grooming torture.

Then I watched this really silly video...

...and realized I'd been in love for 16 years. Well, maybe 14. Took me a couple of years to warm up to the idea.

Richmond: I love you.

There. I said it.

Has it been easy? Hell no!

Everybody's been with the one who you can't take to the party because of all of the embarrassing stuff in their pasts that seems to keep coming up. (Oh God, the New York Times. Really? Yes, yes, New York friends. I live in that Richmond.)

So, I was watching this video of a couple of bank dudes, off work in their skinny jeans and tats, and it started me thinking about the whole thing. I was at first annoyed, then bemused, and by the end I was seeing stars and hearts, bouncing around my home office like Pepe Le Pew.

And they didn't even hit most of my favorite things about my adopted city.

I'll save the infuriating stuff for a later day. (There's plenty). I'm trying to impress you with the object of my devotion, ya'll.

In no particular order:

The Kids
Richmond is home to a major university, 2 important colleges, a medical college and a whole lot of 20-somethings who started college and just decided to hang out instead. Most of these institutions are in the city proper giving it an energy that frankly sizzles. Keeps me young.

The Old Guard
Yeah...sometimes the FFVa (first families of Virginia) get on my last nerve trying to hold on to that precious Southern past (let's face it wasn't that great except for your bunch). But there is something truly inspiring about the dedication of this class to keep Richmond looking like the majestic city it is. If it weren't for them, there would be an Applebee's Downtown. Give them their props. Pat their bow ties. It's great to live somewhere where seersucker is worn without irony.

The Food
I'm almost embarrassed at our choices of fine food and in this town. What impresses me even more is the bloodthirsty debate that ensues every time someone starts recommending restaurants. (Surely a future blog post). The fact that people get so riled about a subject that most people in other towns spend as much time considering as their daily shower is a beautiful thing. Why are all these phenomenal foodie people and restauranteurs here? I have no idea.

Having not visited every city on earth, I cannot verify that Richmond is the most beautiful city in the Spring that exists. But if I were a poker player and I had Richmond's Spring as a hand (complete with that Ace-in-the-Hole-Everybody's-Party Easter Parade we have every year) I'd bet my life savings, such as it is.

To quote my best friend comedian Lord Carrett, "Welcome to Richmond! Where if you fell off a horse in the Civil War, you're somewhere blocking traffic." I'm cool with the driving hazards. My favorite image of the city which I see a few times a year is two birds perched on the ears of Stonewall Jackson's horse on his monument.

Public Spaces
Everybody's got a big back yard in Richmond. Doesn't matter if you live in the dinkiest little studio in the Fan. Between the greenway running down the center of Monument Avenue to Maymont Park to Byrd Park, if you want a few minutes to yourself with nature: it's yours. Safe, clean, uncrowded and beautiful.

I've met the best friends of my life in this city. From the sweatiest house-painter to the flakiest artist, the most sarcastic bartender to the savviest lawyer. And it's the kind of city where they could all, in fact, be the same person. Yep. It's weird like that.

Which brings me to my favorite thing about Richmond of all....

Much like the best life partner one could hope for: Richmond allows you to be yourself.

If you're unhappy here...well I'm sorry to say, it's your own fault. I was pretty unhappy here for the first two years, but it was because I refused to see that everything I needed was here for the asking. And most of it free of charge or very, very cheap.

And Richmond is still small enough, still needs enough work, that you can be an active part of any change you want to make in it. There's no challenge in a partner who's perfect.

Here's to growing together for a very, very long time.

(We are not registered as of yet, but are accepting gift certificates to any locally owned businesses or restaurants. Thank you for celebrating with us!)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Vampires Pay My Electric Bill

I don't come from a literary background if you're talking about my education. I spent my college years learning how to feed beef cattle. I was an animal husbandry major.

One of the things that makes me most proud of my bookstore is that it's a place where you can feel free to read anything and not be judged...(sorry, snotty English majors...there's no jobs for you here). Yes, we've got an English major or two on staff, but they enjoy fantasy, action novels and the whole host of stuff you love on vacation and in your favorite curled up reading chair.

I think a lot of people don't frequent indie bookstores because they think they're supposed to be picking up Proust and pretending to enjoy it. Take a look at our staff picks and you'll see that we're reading what you want to read.

Nothing wrong with trying to be well-read, but I'm never going to tell a single mom who has three kids and two jobs that she's a lower person because she doesn't feel like reading Hawthorne. (In my opinion, one of the best things about being an adult is that no one can ever force me to read Hawthorne ever again!)

Any reading is improving your life.

That being said, I had a bad bug last bad I was on enough drugs I couldn't read.

My friend Jean loaned me (actually, she kind of tossed the dvd to me in an effort not to touch me) the first season of True Blood when I was sick last week. Charlaine Harris signed at Fountain the day she got the HBO contract.

Super fun. The books are awesome too.

If you want to read the classics, I applaud you. I read a few a year...I love Colette, Faulkner, Camus, Orwell.

The rest of the time I read stuff that entertains me. I love action novels where lots of things blow up. So do my booksellers and I love them for it. I'm currently reading a great mystery with a drag queen detective from Turkey.

Come in and play with us. Reading is our play.

God bless the vampires and the zombies...dead though they may be, they definitely contribute to the Fountain bottom line.

Come see Maggie Stiefvater on Wednesday...she does werewolves and killer faeries. She's a Virginia author who's enjoying great success so we hope you'll come celebrate with us.

See you at the shop. Our booksellers are waiting to serve.