Category Archives: Adventures in the book trade

Bathsheba Monk gives good read

Bathsheba Monk gave a terrific reading at the bookstore yesterday, opening with a very funny standup routine and then doing a graceful segue into a chapter of her new novel, Nude Walker.  But you don’t have to take my word for it — read what happened from the lady herself.

Tagged , ,

The bookstore at the end of the universe

The snowstorm, which had slacked off late in the afternoon, started building in intensity once again right about dinnertime. The streetlights developed halos of snow and ice pellets, and the passing cars sounded more like boats than wheeled vehicles. Then just before 8 p.m., I went back to the kitchen to start another pot of coffee. When I turned one of the taps, all I got was a hollow, gurgling sound. No water.

My first thought was that I’d somehow messed up and let the pipes freeze. So I called the Pad Thai restaurant across the Avenue. The woman in charge was beside herself — they’d lost their water, too. Hard to run a restaurant without water. After about five minutes, the restaurant’s “Open” sign went out and suddenly Nighthawk Books was the only business open on the Avenue between Dunkin Donuts and the supermarket two blocks thataway.

I was thinking about locking up for the night. Brosna, a group playing traditional Irish music, was supposed to perform, but I hadn’t gotten any e-mails from them and the roads were getting risky. But they are dedicated people, and a little after 8 p.m. they showed up to play, storm or no storm.

Better still, there was an audience: two women, one from town, the other from Piscataway — one town over, but not so close that one would drive over from there on a bad night without giving the matter some serious thought. It was probably the smallest audience Brosna has ever played for, but I doubt many others could have matched it for attentiveness and enthusiasm. For the next 90 minutes or so we were a lovely island of light, warmth, and music on a dark street full of snow and ice.

But the storm wasn’t letting up, and the roads were still bad, so the band packed up a little past 10 p.m. I followed everyone out the door in order to unplug the exterior lights. I took a last look up and down the Avenue. Taking a note from Douglas Adams, I dubbed it the bookstore at the end of the universe. Then I turned off the lights and got the shovel and sidewalk salt into position for the morning, when it would be time to move all the glop out of the way.

Tagged , ,

A friend of a friend

The woman first showed up at the bookstore about seven months ago, asking about mysteries. She was buying some books for a friend, someone who liked detective and crime stories. We talked for a bit about what her friend might like: suspenseful and twisty, but not hardcore violent. I suggested she try something by Mary Higgins Clark, and she left with a copy of On the Street Where You Live, which had the added benefit of a Jersey Shore setting.

She turned up again a few weeks later, happy to announce that her friend loved the Clark book and wanted some more. She left with a small stack of Clark titles: A Cry in the Night, Stillwatch, and a couple of others I don’t recall.

It was on her third visit that she told me her friend was stricken with a terminal illness and found great comfort in reading. We talked a while, and instead of going for more Mary Higgins Clark she went with a Sue Grafton title.

It’s been about a month since that last visit. I hope her friend is doing okay, and I hope she is, too.

Tagged ,

Blow, winds, blow

Today I put the brand-new A-frame sidewalk sign in front of the bookstore. That may not sound like a big deal to you, but around here it’s headline news.

See, the original sidewalk sign was a very attractive wood frame thang that blew over at the merest touch of an air current. It could be as light as the draft from a flatulent gnat, that sucker was going down. And so over the weeks and months I enacted my private version of the myth of Sisyphus, heading down the front steps every half hour or so to right the sign. Tethering it to the railing didn’t make any difference. And then one night some dolt plowed into it with his bicycle, and the sign was pretty well trashed.

The new sign, on the other hand, is metal. Those autumn breezes haven’t stirred it even a fraction of an inch. It weighs over twenty pounds, and if I want to make it heavier I need only pour sand into its hollow legs. Yeah, baby!

And if I see that bicyclist coming down the Avenue, I’m putting the heavied-up sign in the middle of the sidewalk and stepping back to see what happens. What goes around, comes around.

Real-life funnies

“Do you have a humor section?”

“Yes, but it’s pretty laughable.”

Bruno and the drunk guy

The drunk guy showed up a little past three in the afternoon, when business at the bookstore starts to slow down. I know he was drunk because he told me, right off the bat: “I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m pretty wasted right now.” I shrugged. It was a blazing hot day, part of the crushingly humid heat wave that made summer 2010 such a trial. Nothing was moving outside the store. On a day like that, drinking yourself into a stupor wasn’t the worst thing you could do.

For a guy who was blinking, owl-eyed drunk, he was pretty articulate. “I just finished an engineering exam and I wanna read something different,” he said. “I don’t wanna beach book. It has to be something demanding.”

“Nonfiction?” I asked.

“Nonfiction,” he said. “I’m reading a lot of philosophy right now.”

Engineering and philosophy? “Have you read Jacob Bronowski?” I asked him.

“No. Don’t know him.”

We headed to the cool of the back room. I plucked The Ascent of Man off the philosophy shelf.

“He was a trained scientist but his first books were about poetry and William Blake,” I said. “He was all about how the spirit of science and asking questions was the best defense against dogma and evil.”

“That sounds interesting,” he said. I handed him the book.

We went back to the front. I rang up the sale, wrapped the book up, and handed it to him.

“Keep it here, okay?” he asked. “I going to Charlie Brown’s for some more drinks. I don’t want the book to get messed up.”

“No problem,” I said. I stuck the book on a shelf behind the counter and watched him head out the door. He didn’t stumble or trip. Some people are like that when they’re really drunk.

That was well over a month ago and the drunk guy has yet to return. The Ascent of Man remains in its spot. I wonder if the drunk guy is sober now. Does he even remember buying the book?

Tagged , ,

The legend of Sleepy Earl

He’s an elderly guy, thin as a bunch of Slim Jims joined at the ends. Very polite, very affable. He shows up for the Saturday movie nights at the bookstore, buys a snack — usually an ice cream bar or a cup of coffee — heads into the TV room, and falls asleep for the next few hours.

A couple of weekends ago, I showed a double bill of The Wages of Fear and Diabolique — two of the most suspenseful films ever made. When I walked by the side entry to the TV room. All around the room, people were staring with big round eyes, mouths slightly agape, utterly spellbound as Yves Montand tried to get a truck full of nitro around a hellishly tight switchback road. In the middle of all those rapt faces was Sleepy Earl, chin resting on his chest.

I’ve shown a lot of great movies here since the store opened, and Earl has slept through some of the best. He’s slumbered through Murmur of the Heart and Lacombe, Lucien. He’s zizzed through The Conversation and The Rain People, napped through Memento and Proof, conked out for The Draughtsman’s Contract and The Pillow Book, and drowsed through The Chosen and My Son, the Fanatic.

Last night I showed House of Games and Homicide, with Earl staking out dreamland in his usual spot — corner of the viewing room, cloth-covered armchair. On his way out, Earl paused and said, “You really hit a home run with those two.” I managed not to ask how he could have known that. I’m going for epic romances next week: Out of Africa and The Way We Were. I expect that well before Robert Redford flashes his first crinkly smile, Earl will be out like a light.

Surely there’s a bluesman out there willing to immortalize Sleepy Earl in a song. If nobody steps forward, I might just have to do the job myself.

Tagged ,

A bookstore dream

Some people came into the bookstore to ask about “a mountain-climbing book” that involved assassins. “You mean The Eiger Sanction?” I asked, and they practically jumped up and down. “Yes! That’s it!”

As it turned out, I didn’t have The Eiger Sanction in the fiction room, but we ended up talking about Shibumi, Trevanian’s farewell to the superspy genre, and the utter lameness of the news that somebody had been hired to write either a prequel or a sequel. (Since Nicholai Hel isn’t in the happiest of situations at the end of the book, I assume Satori will be a prequel. That title doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence, I must say.) I managed to interest them in checking out Trevanian’s fifth novel, The Summer of Katya, a pre-WWI love story with a macabre final act that would have done Daphne du Maurier proud, and his last one, The Crazyladies of Pearl Street, a collection of vignettes about Depression-era life in an upstate New York town. I was on my way to the back room when the alarm went off.

Tagged , , , ,

Say hello to Glenn

After hearing multiple requests for espresso, I broke down and bought a Nespresso machine for the bookstore coffee station. The customers have been uniformly approving of the drinks. I have to admit I’m endlessly fascinated by the little coffee warheads that get fed into the machine. For some reason, I’m reminded of the Strange Change machine I had back in the day.

To complete the caffeine experience, I ordered a milk frother to go with the Nespresso, and it’s a wonderful gizmo in its own right. I’ve named it Glenn Beck — or, as we say down at the bookstore, just Glenn. Like its namesake, Glenn is a machine built to produce large amounts of froth at the mere touch of a button. Except the end product of the bookstore’s Glenn is much more palatable.

How about that! Just now, I happened to mention ACORN while using the frother and it produced twice as much foam as usual. Maybe I should have named it O’Reilly?

A matter of tastes

After long consideration and deep thought, I have concluded that I simply don’t get the idea of bubble tea. I don’t get it at all.

Just so we understand each other, I’m talking about iced tea that comes in a plastic cup with little pearls of tapioca lying on the bottom. It comes with a very wide straw that allows the pearls to be sucked up along with the tea. So you’ll be enjoying your tea, and suddenly there will be this little blurtch of chewy pellets filling your mouth.

I mention this because I’ve been casting around for ways to sell bubble tea at the store, and it appears to be an expensive, labor-intensive product. On top of which, I don’t get it.

I like iced tea and I like tapioca pudding, but it never occurred to me to combine the two. The same goes for ice cream and Swedish meatballs, or single-malt whisky and Kombucha. As much as I like them, I feel no impulse to combine them. Quite the opposite, in fact. So there’s my closed mind.

Tagged , ,