Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Booking in the great Pacific Northwest

I haven’t done much reading in almost two weeks.

On March 19 I flew to Seattle. I had two goals. Spend a little time with my oldest son who had moved to Seattle from Austin six months ago. And drive from Seattle to Virginia with a friend’s car, cat and an assortment of her possessions.

I also hoped to do some booking. Booking is a term that should not need defined for regular readers of this blog. (Both of you.) However, for someone that merely wanders onto these pages booking is serious book shopping at new – preferably independent stores as opposed to chains – and used bookstores. It is shopping with a purpose.

I didn’t accomplish as much as I had hoped. Driving coast to coast in five days doesn’t allow for much extracurricular activity.

Before departing Seattle I had a wonderful visit with Claudia Skelton and her friend Ann. (Sadly, I don’t think I ever learned Ann’s last name.) Claudia, like me, is a member of the bibliophile list serve. She also works part-time in an elegant Seattle book shop and is an avid reader and collector. When she learned I was going to be in Seattle, she said let’s have coffee.

We did. I hadn’t met Claudia before, but when we sat down and started talking books it was like we were old friends. It was a wide ranging discussion about reading, collecting, bookstores and book people. (I talked about how I read so many books, but really I don’t think it’s that many. Claudia talked about her preference for non-fiction over fiction. Ann is a Jane Austin aficionado.)

Later, Claudia walked me down the street to Wessel and Lieberman, where she works part time. This is my idea of bookstore. Neat. Well lit. A knowledgeable staff. Brick walls and wood floors. It has a broad selection of books with a bit of an emphasis on book arts and fine art as well as the Pacific Northwest. The literature section is smallish, but consists of well-chosen, clean, bright books. I came away with two items; one an especially lovely piece.

From Wessel and Lieberman it’s less than a block to the Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle’s premiere independent bookstore. Again brick walls and wood floors and books in room after room after room. I bought two books here.

While in Seattle I also visited the Seattle Book Center and Magus Books. The Seattle Book Center’s fiction section was disappointing, but its history section – especially the Civil War titles – was impressive. Here’s what I liked. It was about closing time and I bought one $20 book (left three behind I wish I had purchased). When the owner saw I was going to pay in cash that’s all he charged me -- $20. No tax. I handed him the bill. He handed me the book. We were both happy.

Magus Books is on the edge of the University of Washington campus (and it is lovely). It’s one of those typical near-campus jumbles; a lot of tatty paperbacks and battered hard covers, esoteric titles and a small sampling of genuinely nice stuff. I bought four issues of Granta – three with material by Louise Erdrich that I had been searching for; a nice collection of short stories by Russell Banks; and a collection of non-fiction by Jim Harrison. The Harrison book was signed and, at $30, I felt it was a bargain.

That was all my booking in Seattle. I had hoped to visit Ed Smith on Bainbridge Island, but it didn’t work out. Fortunately, since my son now lives in the area – and other visits are planned – I have reasonable expectations of seeing Ed in the coming months.

On my drive East I stopped in at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane. It’s located in a lovely old building near downtown. Most of the books (and there are a lot of them) are found on the sprawling ground floor, but there are more books on a second level. One thing I especially liked about Auntie’s is that a number of titles that were issued in 2008 were still on the shelves. Borders and Barnes & Noble are inclined to remove books in short order, but in Auntie’s I found first editions of Child 44 and A Partisan’s Daughter.

I also stopped briefly in a jumbled used bookstore in Sheridan, Wyoming. I found a fine first edition of Joseph Kanon’s The Good German. Even better, I found a first edition of former Cubbie Ron Santo’s For the Love of Ivy.

That was it. I had hoped to stop in Denver, but the snow was coming in and I thought it prudent to continue down the road. I also had no opportunity to stop in my favorite used bookstore in Kansas, The Dusty Bookshelf. There are two – one in Manhattan and one in Lawrence. I frequent the one in Lawrence.

The trip lasted nine days; five of those on the road. I traveled through 13 states and logged more than 3,400 miles.

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