This year's annual First Parish Church Fair coincided with the church’s own anniversary of more than 350 years. It’s a wide, whitewashed, steepled wood-frame New England icon, the front lawn flowing down to the main street, graveyard to the left, low-profiled and white town office buildings to the right, all modestly landscaped.
The bustling center of the Fair is an auction of donated items. A 1920’s mahogany bed rail and headboard set went for $20; a framed print of our town sold for $40. A second tent sells antiques – lace tablecloths, glass decanters – and a third has miscellaneous tag sale items. A small area offers children’s activities for fifty cents: face painting, rock painting, magnetic fishing. The food tent makes a fabulous sausage sandwich with peppers and onions, and there is of course strawberry shortcake and a bake sale. Hundreds of people stand, mill, stride and jostle around the front lawn from nine until three. Cars line the streets in every direction.
My family doesn't need more coffee mugs or lamps, we don’t like the crush of people, and we stand around the food tent for far too long, so as a rule, I usually avoid the Fair. This year we promised my in-laws, who manage said food tent (and enjoyed record sales this year!) we would go. There we were, standing with our plates, when a friend passed.
She said she brings her children to the Fair specifically for the books; it's a family tradition. Books? Nobody ever mentioned books; I never saw any before. A small hand-lettered sign pointed us around back to the entrance of the church hall, to tables and tables of books. One quarter, two quarters, maybe a dollar each for the really big ones. The room was full of people, a crowd with which we happily jostled.
I bought John Irving’s A Widow for One Year, and Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples. My children bought a joke book, So You Want to Be an Inventor, and My Side of the Mountain. How did we not own that one already? Even when you are someone who appreciates the importance of list price, a bag full of books ready to be loved is a beautiful thing. It is addictive, not just for oneself, but to those around you. The more we read, the more we want to read, whether or not we are writers.
How to center a life on books? Write, even if you are not a writer, in letters, in a journal. Buy books – and gift certificates for others – at the local, independent book store. Listen to an author, live, at the library, bookstore, or auditorium. Get to the library just once, no matter how crazy your life, because you have to go back to make those returns and it jumpstarts a happy cycle. Bring a book or notebook when you have to wait. Ask, everywhere, where the books are kept; don't assume there aren't any, or not think to ask at all. They are out there, as are the readers. How many more new traditions and memories can I center around books? There must be hundreds of small ways, and I want suggestions!
Wednesday, June 20, 2007