We met working in an independent bookstore in California at Kepler’s Books & Magazines. The Bay Area is flush with independent bookstores like Books Inc., Green Apple Books, City Lights, Santa Cruz Bookshop, and so many more. What we … Continue reading
As Joe and I trekked up to his parents’ house in Normal, IL with both kids in tow, we started talking about books. I know, what are the odds that two people who own a bookshop would start talking about books?
At the end of the year we usually tally up how many books we’ve read (Joe keeps a page count as well, which I find slightly insane and charming all wrapped up together). This year we each had a couple of books stand out for us.
On Joe’s list:
1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
This is what happens if you cross Douglas Coupland with Neal Stephenson. A recently unemployed web designer falls back on his first love (books) when he notices a help wanted sign in a very unusual bookstore in San Francisco. Discovering a puzzle hidden in the mysterious volumes of the store’s tall stacks, he creates a program to solve it, only to find greater puzzles waiting. A great read for people who love both books and technology, but love books more.
2. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
Traveling by ship from Ceylon to England, a boy falls in with a motley assortment of passengers: two other boys his own age, a slightly seedy pianist, a gardener of exotic plants, and others. The narrator looks back at his 1950s self with a mix of wonder, nostalgia, and regret as he ponders the effects of this voyage on the lives of his friends. This novel is Ondaatje at his best, blending colorful characters, stories within stories, and lyrical but economic prose to rebuild a magical time and place.
3. Blythewood, by Carol Goodman
In Blythewood, author Carol Goodman revisits New York’s Hudson Valley, the setting of many of her adult novels, in her first YA/teen fantasy. In 1911, a young garment worker named Avaline Hall discovers there is more to her world than she knows – just as she is plucked from her hardscrabble life by her wealthy grandmother, she finds a world of wonder and danger at Blythewood, a boarding school that trains young women to defend humanity from dark and fantastic creatures. Blending real world events (the Triangle fire) with fairy tales come to life, Goodman builds a compelling story perfect for fans of Libba Bray.
And for Kelsey (me):
1. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Set in 1986, this is the story of two teens who bond over music and comic books while riding the bus to school every morning. Eleanor has fiery red hair and dresses in old hand-me-down clothes. Park, half Korean & half white, dresses in black and loves punk music. Eleanor is different, and Park is both nervous for her and intrigued by her. Park is different, and Eleanor is drawn to his inner confidence and charmed by his “normal” family.
I thought the writing was good- particularly the back-and-forth repartee between the two, as well as Eleanor’s interior monologue. The heavier plot lines regarding abuse and poverty were handled beautifully. I really loved this book!
2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker recounts his life story – including how he managed to steal, or rescue, a famous painting during a terrorist attack on a museum. The writing is wonderful, with the turns of phrase that only Donna Tartt can pull off. I love stories that bring in many different elements that seem random but then are brought back and essentially become the most important parts of the plot.
3. The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh
Written by a local (Columbia, Mo) author, this eerie crime novel takes place in the Ozark mountains. Lucy Dane is grappling with the murder of her friend, another high schooler in their small town. As Lucy begins to uncover the grisly truth about her town, friends, and family, the truth about her mother’s disappearance 16 years before is revealed. This book reminded me of Tana French & Gillian Flynn’s stories, in which the history of the characters becomes just as important as the current storyline. It reminds us that our past experiences are never fully dealt with, but come back for us to search through as new situations trigger their echoes.
People ask us all the time where we get our books for the shop. The short answer is from all over.
We buy books for cash and / or trade at the shop. Joe, who manages the inventory, doesn’t take every title or genre. He won’t take books that are in bad condition or are underlined. In a college town we get a fair amount of people who are moving on and want to reduce the amount of boxes they have to move. And because many of them are students, we also see a fair amount of underlined or highlighted books.
Book sales are my personal favorite because Joe and I go together with a plan for book world domination. I’m always in charge of the Fiction area and usually also in charge of kids books. He’s in charge of everything else.
Not everyone has the time or energy for a giant book sale- they are not for the faint of heart. You have to get there early and sometimes wait in line in the rain before they open the doors. It gets hot really fast inside the community center, library, or church and you have to carry heavy boxes back to your car. At the last book sale we went to, an older woman pinched my arm to encourage me to get out of her way. It can be brutal in there. People are serious about their books (let’s not even get started with book scanners…).
After buying books at a large sale we usually try and grab a bite to eat – alone with no kids?! Hungry from all of that hard work?! We sit and eat and tell each other about all of the books we scored. It’s all very self-congratulatory and silly. And quite fun.
We appreciate our customers buying books in our shop and supporting a local business. So many of the books we’ve just picked up at a sale sell within a day or two as if customers can tell how excited we are to share these new-to-us titles with them.
We want to write more about our first year of owning a bookshop… so hopefully in the next couple of days we’ll manage to do it! But for now… here’s a glimpse into our Birthday Bash! We gave away pies made by Peggy Jean’s Pies (a local Columbia favorite); had live music by the coolest kid in town (he’s so cool he only goes by one name… Anders); face painting & kids crafts rounded out our party.
We have the best customers ever and as usual they came out to support us! This year has been a whirlwind and we couldn’t ask for a better community to be involved in… we love CoMo!
When readers have children they discover how much time those children suck up their reading time. We love our children. We really do… but we love our books too.
It’s not just the actual books that we miss, but the time hunting for books in the bookstore (without having to head to the kid’s section). It’s the dream of a stack of books on the bedside table that doesn’t include a Sandra Boynton board book (no matter how delightful they are). And it’s the feeling of being able to read uninterrupted with a bowl of ice cream in the living room (not at the kitchen table) without little tiny footsteps creeping down the stairs at night… catching you in the act (and requiring you to put the book down, return the spoon to your bowl, and explain that yes, parents sometimes eat dessert without their kids, and then starting the bedtime routine all over again). Because we miss our books (and the ability to consume junk food without the kiddos catching us in the act), we invented the Nap / Read.
Oh! And those of us who relied on a daily or at least weekendly nap… well, that goes right out the window when your kiddos stop napping. When you do finally get a chance to read you inevitably fall asleep because you’re sleep deprived from never getting to nap and catch up on your sleep.
The rules of Nap / Read are simple… You must bring more books than you can ever actually finish in a 24 hour period (because that’s about how long the average Nap / Read lasts for us). You must pack an excess of junk food (all of the stuff you tell your kids is really bad for them and that they should NEVER eat). You cannot watch TV (we advise NOT going on Nap / Read during March Madness if you’re basketball fans… you will be tempted to watch the madness the whole time you’re supposed to be READING). You cannot… uh, well… spend your time doing things other than reading, eating junk, and falling asleep randomly whenever you feel like it. In other words, save your “let’s reconnect time” for a different getaway (and maybe don’t bring as many books on that trip).
The short of it… we sit around and read and fall asleep and eat junk food in the same uninterrupted space. It’s absolute heaven.
10 Reasons to visit the Kid’s Nook at Yellow Dog Bookshop
- We have a fabulous mural painted by local artist Jessie Starbuck. Our tree mural is the perfect backdrop for sitting down and reading a picture book or two.
- Our cozy nook is a place to take a quiet moment with your child if you need to get out of the cold/heat of Missouri weather. We welcome breastfeeding mothers, too. If you need to feed your babe, come on in.
- We have picture books!
- Middle readers… we’ve got you covered with both old and new titles!
- We have Story Time at least once a month. And okay, so it doesn’t happen INSIDE the Kids’ Nook… but it happens right outside in the main part of the bookshop. The stories we read are always chosen from the Kid’s Nook.
- We LOVE to know what you’re reading… . Pssst. We read a lot of kid’s books- we kind of like them. A lot. In fact, Kelsey reads mostly YA books and she loves to talk about them with other YA readers!
- We have two kids and they demanded that we have a spot for them in the shop.
- Classics. There is a reason these books are classics… kids (grown up kids) and current kids alike love books like: Charlotte’s Web, A Wrinkle in Time, the Mrs. Pickerell books, Alice in Wonderland and more.
- Our selection is always changing. We may not have the newest children’s picture books, but we will have a little something that you didn’t even know you needed.
- We have a secret pink bird in the Kids’ Nook. No, really. Have you found it yet?
Our daughter, Sally (also known as Bean), is 5 1/2 and loves being read to. She isn’t quite reading on her own yet, but it will probably happen any day now and when it does… she’ll be unstoppable. After reading to her from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic this evening, we discussed which stories (from all of the books) are her favorite and so she made a list (which included much giggling when she recalled what each story is about). If you haven’t heard of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle… well, you’re missing out. She is, in short, a very kind woman who understands how children are and always has time to listen to their stories, dreams, and problems. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives in an up-side down house, has buried treasure in her backyard and always keeps & displays prominently, the strange and lumpy gifts that children make for her. As Bean says, “she’s just really magical and solves problems.”
Bean’s favorite Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories, in order:
1. The Thought-You-Saiders Cure from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic
Hilarity ensues when three siblings are constantly mishearing things that their parents say. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle recommends a magical powder that intensifies their hearing which quickly solves the problem.
2. The Radish Cure from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
A little girl refuses to take a bath/shower and on the advice of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, her parents let her get nice and dirty so that they can plant little radishes in her layers of dirt. All problems are solved when the radishes start to grow off of her skin and she begs to take a shower!
3. The Won’t-Pick-Up-Toys Cure from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
A little boy needs to be fed by rake and garden hose via his bedroom window when his toys take over his room and he can’t get out of his bedroom door. But when Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle comes by his house with a marching band and a parade, he quickly sees the error of his ways and cleans up his mess.
4. The Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker Cure from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Bean’s favorite part is when Allen, the boy who won’t eat more than a spoonful at meals, is so weak that he lays across Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s horse, Spotty. Allen is described as a sack of cornmeal, a doughboy, & a wet sock because he so pale and weak from not eating. Bean rolls with laughter at each descriptor.
5. The Messy Stuff-and-Cram Cure from Happy Birthday Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Poor Katy is essentially attacked by all of the stuff she’s messily crammed into every corner, drawer, box, & closet of her room after Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle consults with her parents. Katy goes from a crammer of stuff to folder of clothes & an organizer of things- much to the happiness of her parents.
The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories were written by Betty MacDonald. Our favorite editions have drawings by Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are) & Hilary Knight (Eloise). I find that I need to edit some of the gendered language out (little girls can be more than future housewives, after all) but on the whole they are very funny. My mom was listening as I read to Bean tonight and I couldn’t help remembering when she read these to me when I was little- definitely a series to pass along through the generations.
Since taking over the bookshop in August, I’ve often been asked what my favorite book is. That’s a difficult question to answer – between the years of studying literature and the years of working in bookstores I’ve read a lot! And my favorite changes as time goes by; some books I loved in college, I’m cool on now. My favorite book of the last few years is The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern; it was beautifully written and utterly captivated me; it’s a world I want to live in. But the book I come back to most – my desert island look, the one I can read endlessly and never tire of – is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I generally have one or two volumes by my bed for easy reference. I used to read it straight through every year or two, and though I haven’t done that in a few years, I still read my favorite passages on a regular basis. I particularly enjoy the whole first half of The Fellowship of the Ring, the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the hobbits’ meeting with Faramir in The Two Towers, and the whole first half of The Return of the King (not to mention the appendices!).
The Hobbit is one of the first long books I remember reading (not the first – that was probably either The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Haunted Fort, both my brother Jamie’s books). We had a storybook anthology that contained the first chapter of The Hobbit; I read it over and over again, but wanted more, and I eventually found it in my library. I finally got my hands on The Lord of the Rings itself in the summer of 1983, when I was ten; I still remember reading a real thunderstorm crashing outside the house as I read about the storm at Helm’s Deep. These were library books, the late 70s hardcovers with white jackets with the Ring and Sauron’s Eye. I tore through them, reading each one twice before I turned them back in. When I started a new school that fall, I was astounded that the library didn’t have them, and immediately told the librarian they needed a set.
The Lord of the Rings is also the first book I began to collect. There are a handful of other authors or books I collect – Herman Hesse, Lawrence Durrell, Ursula LeGuin, George R.R. Martin – but I’ll write about those in later posts. But my largest collection by far is Tolkien. My first copy came at Christmas 1983, the Ballantine boxed set of mass market paperbacks. I loved the covers, with art by Darrell K. Sweet, and I read them so vigorously that the covers started to fall apart. I quickly added The Silmarillion (that cover has been held on with Scotch tape since 1985!) and the few other Tolkien books then in print (The Tolkien Reader, Smith of Wootton Major/Farmer Giles of Ham). Since then I’ve added several more versions, mostly from used bookstores in Illinois and California. There are the lurid Ballantines from the 1960s (Tolkien hated those covers!), the beautiful 1970s versions with Tolkien’s own paintings as the cover art, hardcovers of the pre-1965 version (the books were revised in 1965 to foil Ace’s pirated paperbacks, which I do not own), the gorgeous single-volume hardcover illustrated by Alan Lee (a birthday present in 1992), the seven-volume boxed set from 1999 (a Christmas present), the recent trade paperback editions with Tolkien’s original concept art for the covers (a present from my brother Chad), and even the Harvard Lampoon’s Bored of the Rings, with its parody of the 1960s covers. Also I have the whole twelve-book series of The History of Middle-Earth, edited by Christopher Tolkien, detailing the vast and intricate writing and drafting of the entire legendarium, from its beginnings in a poem written in the trenches in the Great War to JRRT’s last musings on scraps of paper just weeks before his death. It’s a monument to one man’s incredible imagination and skill.
All told, I have twelve full copies of The Lord of the Rings (five single-volumes, seven sets) with four unmatched volumes, six copies of The Hobbit, five copies of The Silmarillion, two copies of Unfinished Tales, three copies of Smith/Farmer Giles (plus the annotated Farmer Giles), two copies of The Tolkien Reader, two copies of the Father Christmas Letters, and two collections of Tolkien’s artwork. Whew! And several of his scholarly works, including The Monsters and the Critics, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the recently published (and magnificent!) Fall of Arthur. Besides this, numerous books about Tolkien and his works, of which the prize is a hardcover edition of Humphrey Carter’s biography of the Professor. Together they fill up an entire four-shelf bookcase.
I don’t have everything there is to have by any means. Some I don’t want, like the late 1980s mass markets. Some I doubt I’ll ever find for any reasonable price, like a 1930s Hobbit, or the Middle English text I found at Black Letter Books in Stillwater, Minnesota for only $300 – too much for me! But I still hope I’ll find some of the few I still really want. I know I could go online for some of them, but I would rather stumble across them in a little store, or a booksale, or when someone walks in with some books to sell. That experience of finding something long desired, right in front of you, is one of the things I love about owning a bookshop.
We have several Tolkien books in the store right now, and it’s a goal of mine always to have some on hand. We won’t often have a complete set, but we may very well have the one you’re missing, and I’m always looking for what I consider the good editions.
I recently finished reading The Hobbit to my daughter Sally, and I hope it was as magical an experience for her as it was for me. I carefully chose which edition I would read, and settled on the green slipcase hardcover, featuring both the original monochrome illustrations by the author as well as several color prints of his paintings. I’m excited about passing on our love for books, and my love for these particular books, to our children, and I look forward to one day discussing all the intricacies of the stories with both of them.