The Stone Lantern

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

May 28, 2006

Here’s what happened in Cambridge. I go to pick up my son from college. I tell him to start loading up the car while I’m just going to check out a couple of the bookstores. (Why does this remind me of the mother of a friend I had growing up, who would tell us to go out and play while (I much later realized) she sat inside and drank? There’s something addictive to this whole book selling business.) I walk into a bookstore and start talking to the young girl at the cash register about my book. She looks about sixteen. I make the same points as I did in New Hampshire, and hand over all the cards I have left. She’s real perky and she tells me she’s going to hand the cards to the manager as soon as he comes in. I realize I’ve made a mistake: of course no manager is going to be at the bookstore at ten a.m. on a Saturday morning of a three-day weekend. I want my cards back but don’t want to look too cheap to the sixteen-year-old girl, so I just say thank you and wander around the bookstore, trying to find the poetry section. It takes me a long time to find it -- not a good sign. I think to myself, When my book comes out, it will be here in the poetry section. But if it had already come out, and if it were here, I would take it and move it There, at the front of the store, in that bin with the sign “New and Notable.” I walk out of the store, wondering if there is a law against that, or if bookstore owners blackball authors who come in and toy around with their shelves.

I go back to check up on how my son is doing loading up the car. He’s doing just fine, so soon I am back on the streets of Cambridge checking out more bookstores. There’s this gorgeous little boutique, with a sign hanging outside that comes right out of Dickens, Grolier Poetry Book Shop. (I suppose nowadays we would say the sign comes right out of Harry Potter.) I walk in and I am charmed. I walk back out and go back to the first bookstore, find the sixteen year old, and ask her if I can have some of the cards back. (Really, I do that.) Now that I’ve got the cards, I go back to Grolier’s. It’s a humid, steamy day in Cambridge and my hair, which is naturally frizzy on a dry day, is sticking out about a foot all around. I pull it back and down before I go back into the bookstore, a hopeless attempt to make myself look more main stream.

My son told me he thought Grolier’s was closing, but when I ask the gentleman at the cashier (who also happens to be the manager), he explains they’ve been saved. About two months ago, Nigerian poet Ifeanyi Menkiti, a professor at Wellesley College, bought the bookstore which has been in existence for almost eighty years. The manager shows me a picture of Professor Menkiti on the wall and points to a book of his poetry. We talk some more, about what kinds of people write poetry, and to illustrate a point, he leads me to a shelf and pulls out a poetry book by a zoologist. I listen, but I really am focused on selling my books today, not on reading those of others. The manager accepts my postcards, and suggests all kinds of things might be possible. I assure him that I am game for anything. Even washing windows, I think to myself but don’t say.

I walk back out, and it dawns on me that I didn’t even have the courtesy to buy a single book. Like the woman in the New Hampshire bookshop said, everybody wants to have their own poetry read; nobody wants to listen to someone else’s. I promise myself I’ll buy a poetry book from Grolier’s next time I go in. Meanwhile, I think my son has finished loading the car.

1 Comments:

  • I'm glad to see that you are not updating your blog at 3 am, or some other early hours of the morning (maybe those are the hours you're writing?).

    Just to let you know, I've been googling your name as well. If Amazon counts the times you've been googled, you will end up on the best sellers list!

    Mimi

    By Blogger Mimi, at 12:40 PM  

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