Sunday, October 18, 2015

WAKING UP THE BOOKSTORE


As the books wake up
One of the things I love most about working at Politics and Prose is waking up the bookstore on a Sunday morning.  That is, on these mornings I am often the first to arrive, to turn on the lights and order the stacks, to bring in the newspapers and put out the dog water bowl.  I feel like I'm untucking the books after a long night's rest. The store is quiet. It feels almost like a temple, and I am the vestal virgin ( a bit long in the tooth, it has to be said) but tending the alters and chapels, preparing the incense as it were and sweeping the steps.  There's a lot of humility when you serve books.  I know that well from trying to write them as well as trying to get the finished product noticed - but it also rings true on these mornings in the bookstore. You can't get high on your horse if you intend to serve books.

Because the books are why we are here.  We serve them. And there's a world of difference between that first hour alone in the bookstore, and the hours that follow - when the place comes alive with browsers and book lovers, writers and readers.  It all slides together so very gradually - and soon you are in the thick of your day and all you can do is go with the flow. In order to go with the flow you must forget about yourself. You must serve the customers and the books. And it's a wonderful feeling.

A lot has happened since I last posted on this blog.  There's been the Fairfax Book Conference, where I ran two workshops on reading the classics - and signed copies of my book side by side with Celeste Ng.  Actually, she was the one signing copies of her book most of the time. But I did sell and sign a fair number of my own book too, in between obligingly taking pictures of her and her fans and eating my lunch and also, Celeste and I did get in a lot of good conversation about our writing life. When it comes down to it, our writing lives are very similar - whether or not we are celebrated.  It all comes down to moments of quiet, and to a sense of humility - a sense of serving the word, and serving the book.  We are the servants. They are the masters.
with Celeste Ng


Also there was Fall for The Book Festival for which we hosted almost 150 writer events.... great to be part of it - and to have the opportunity to lunch with Angela Flournoy and attend her event. I feel proud to have reviewed her debut novel The Turner House   and to have written a staff pick at Politics and Prose - well before the book made the long list for the National Book Award. Did she expect the nomination? No! And when I met up with her at Starbucks, there she was, just like everyone else, waiting to serve her time at the festival - sitting in a chair and checking her iphone and feeling a bit out of place.  She is humble.  She is serving the book.  She is traveling across the country giving readings and attending events - but the events are not always glamorous. She is the servant. The book is the master.

There was also an amazing Tim O Brien event at Fall for the Book - hosted by Stephen Goodwin, friend, mentor and wonderful writer.  And  a great event with Naja Maria Aidt  and her translator where I was introduced to her debut novel Rock Paper Scissors. What beautiful people. And what a fascinating novel it is - with a voice completely original.

Then last night I had the privilege of speaking at the Fairfax Library Foundation jubilee - about Changing Lives Through Literature.. great to spread the word about this program which is so close to my heart.  Again, it is the book we read that sets the tone for our interactions in this program. My job is mostly to listen and to get out of the way.

I've also got in a lot of good writing time too - on my new novel LADYBOY. And that involves a lot of writing and rewriting.  As Naja Maria Aidt said at her reading, she often found she was writing and rewriting the first fifty pages or so - and she had to do that for months before she was up and running. I think it has to do with feeling out the terrain of your novel - with understanding its language and listening to the story and the characters so that you know them well enough - so that you know them better than the readers do, by the time they read those first fifty pages.

Yes, there's a lot of humility in being a writer. And this is underscored for me, in those early grateful mornings as I prepare the bookstore for a new day. I wake up the books with a vacuum cleaner.  I am their cleaning lady and the books are my boss. It falls to me to vacuum the store and let me tell you, that can take a good forty five minutes!