The other day I had lunch in Chicago with my dear friend Betsy, during which we - as only old friends can - downloaded our life headlines lickity-split-like.
Says me: "Whatever happened with your son" and "How's Mark's dad" and "You got tickets to Hamilton" and "Wait, I never heard about your trip to Portugal?" On my side it's usually she (mother of two sons) consoling me that it's normal to need an ice pick to get life-details from a teenage son, that no, I shouldn't have let on that I was thrilled that my daughter broke up with whatzhis name because I just might end up seeing him at Thanksgiving, and then always: what are you reading?? You can see Betsy on our website; she is a fearless PPB Reader and the reason I challenged myself and read A Little Life, the subject of a great PPB book club Thursday.
After we hugged and headed off I realized that joy oh joy, I was steps away from the shop owned by my mentor, Ellen Sandmeyer. Ellen and her husband have owned Sandmeyer's Bookstore in Printers Row since 1982 and it's second only to PPB in my heart. In the last 2 1/2 years I have asked 35-year-veteran Ellen every question I have and she has so graciously walked me through how she does it. "IT" is that her store is so enviably curated that anyone would feel like they've entered the Land of BookOZ. So I spent hours that day learning (again) from her - "Where did you find this one, a catalog or sales rep or word of mouth or what?" and "After how long is a book moved from your 'New Release' section?" and "You didn't bring in ______, why not?" Bookstore owners are in a tiny club and when we get together we are so excited to speak our own book shorthand that we spiral very quickly into a private universe. (One time in a New York bookstore - tiny and so charming - the owner introduced himself and we spiraled so far into BookLand that my husband left and sat outside and I didn't even notice .... Oops).
All that said because at Ellen's I enter a bookshopping wonderland that inspires and surprises me and I can only hope my store feels to you what hers feels like to me. And joy oh joy - I had just finished A Little Life: Time for a new novel!! It's funny how we choose a book, isn't it? That day I purchased Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett. Why that one you say? This was my process:
- The cover. Okay, I admit it, I am a cover lover. With all those book spines facing out - the font of the title and color of the Rush Oh! cover, plus the energetic and nostalgic title - RUSH OH! spoke to me. I pulled it from the shelf and sure enough, I could tell from the cover illustrations that it was about whaling, which maintained and even piqued my interest. That's because Nantucket Island is probably my favorite place on earth and I love their whaling museum.
- The recommendations. Ooooh - the cover recommendation was by an author I admire: "Beautiful and brutal, witty and kind, Rush Oh! is a story of great surprises and a beating heart - a book to never forget. Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief." Who writes the recs and how often those people recommend books (too many, Elizabeth Gilbert!) is something I look for. My book-heart is pumping now: on to the back cover and quotes there: "Hugely funny. Poetic meditation on love. Bloody battles between man and beast ...." Dang, this adventure tale could be the one - totally different from my last read.
- The inside flap. The inside coverslip usually has a plot summary and this one sounds great: Rush Oh! is set in 1908 in a New South Wales whaling community, and the story is based on a real character, George "Fearless" Davidson, a legendary captain. What luck, I was in the mood for historical fiction. Ooooh - lookee, high praise for the novel's flinty and hilarious but also vulnerable narrator, 17-year-old daughter Mary. Female narrator - haven't read one in a while ....
- Read a little bit. I got a feel for Mary right away reading the first pages, and her voice reminded me of the young heroine of the recent True Grit movie with Jeff Bridges - bold, sassy and with an unusual cadence and manner of speaking (formal? old-fashioned?) Page 38, Mary says:
I shall now pause a moment and describe my sister Louisa, as I notice she is creeping into my story and perhaps warrants an explanation. At that time (I have decided to confine my literary endeavors to an account of the whaling season of 1908), Louisa was sixteen years of age and widely admired for her appearance. Her hair was a pale straw yellow in color, her features dainty and her figure slender, with an overall effect which many found pleasing. (I myself value qualities such as kindness and consideration for others above mere symmetry of form; however it seems I am out of step with public taste in this regard.)
Hilarious - I'm sold! Thanks Ellen for having this book. (P.S. I can tell you that I'm half way through and loving it. Success!)
Next time you're in - I'd love to chat about your process for choosing a book, it's so interesting I think! See you soon - and lookee here:
PPB now has dozens of wool mittens for gifting or keeping - handmade by Wheaton sisters Wendy and Susie. 10% off while supplies last...