Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Books at the Center

By Hannah

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!


Therese said...

I'm sensing a theme here...

I love discovering books for sale in unexpected places. Last year, in a thrift store, I found a 1902 book on the death of president McKinley and bought it for my husband (he's a history buff).

The book turned out to not be very valuable in monetary terms--for some reason, lots of people saved their copies--but it was a fascinating slice of 1902 social commentary.

I have an affection for old books, original source documents, antique maps...

And the discovery and exploration of them makes for interesting family discussions--so there's a suggestion for you. :)

Lisa said...

First, I have to say My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite books when I was young. There was an old copy at my grandmother's house, seems to me the cover was yellow and I fantasized about running off and living on my own in the woods constantly after I read it.

Second, you are in the best part of the country, at least where I've lived, for a book lover. I love my adopted state of Colorado, but there is no place like New England when it comes to being able to find used books. Besides growing up there, we lived there for a year and a half between late 04 and early 06 and it got to the point where Scott would automatically pull the car over whenever we saw a "barn sale" or a used book store on the side of the road. We have them, but not nearly as many and ours tend to be in less romantic places. I don't have a specific suggestion, just a comment that you live in an area that's unusually ripe with used books. It's the kind of place where you can still "go out for a ride" and find all kinds of side trips and adventures. I miss the barn sales and I miss the farm stands with ice cream -- a lot of good ice cream there in the summer!

Larramie said...

All the members of the writers' group are fortunate to live in such a rich literary area. There you have those small bookstores where the owner knows your name, your reading favorites and your phone number to call you when something new comes in. And then there's that bookstore "fragrance" which is pure heaven !