Lane and I just read an article in Harper’s magazine by Ann Patchett, noted author and proprietress of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee. According to Greek mythology, Mt. Parnassus is the home of the muses or the home of music and poetry. (I’m not suggesting I knew that.)
The article tells the saga of how she met Tom Hanks’ assistant after interviewing him about his latest book and discussing his idea to open a local bookstore in Santa Monica. Ms. Patchett forms a relationship with his assistant, a young lady suffering through a battle with pancreatic cancer. Pretty good story.
In fact, You’ve Got Mail is a movie where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are competing bookstore owners.
Anyway, I have always loved bookstores. I guess the most famous one I visited was when our daughter, Kern, was studying abroad in Paris. On the left bank was Shakespeare and Company opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919. Hemingway and associates of the Lost Generation would meet there to discuss lofty ideas and drink espresso. Ms. Beach would loan Ernest books because he was too poor to buy them but the publication of The Sun Also Rises cured that.
I always like to read a book while traveling so I asked Kern to recommend a French author. I read The Lover by Marguerite Duras. A semi-autobiographic account set in Vietnam during the French rule. It’s a pretty good movie too.
In my business career, I would often attend meetings in Atlanta and afterwards go to dinner with the other high-level executives. Later, I would sneak off to one my all-time favorite bookstores, The Oxford Book Store, nestled in the corner of a strip shopping center. Used books were on one side and new ones on the other with a New Age section with titles of which I was unfamiliar.
One author caught my attention, Lobsang Rampa, a Tibetan lama whose accounts may or may not be true but were certainly entertaining. His most famous is The Third Eye. But my favorite is Living with the Lama, written through telepathy by his cat, Fifi Greywhiskers. I tried to read it to our kittens, Cleo and Lisa, but they kept falling asleep. Upstairs housed a coffee shop, The Cup and Chaucer. I liked to have an espresso, sit in the corner pretending to be reading, where I could overhear the conversations of the young “needle nosed pseudo intellectuals.”
Lane and I traveled to our niece’s wedding in Woodland, California, a quaint little village much like Apalach, friendly folks and wonderful restaurants. There we discovered a real gem of a bookstore, Jerry Coulter’s Used Books, housing over 5,000 books, according to his wife Terri. I believe she knew the nook of every title. Generously she gave me John Grisham’s Camino Island in which the main character owns a local bookstore in a coastal town (sound familiar?) So, I read that one there and on the plane home.
A good friend of my mother opened a bookstore in our little hometown. It was a good one. In those early days, men couldn’t be seen going in to purchase a Playboy magazine, being in the heart of the Bible Belt, so she would keep them under the counter in a brown wrapper until the heretics arrived. Her supplier who monitored her inventory was none other than our own Ed Springer, one of our most erudite citizens. He remembers learning how to eat fried catfish.
Once upon a time long ago in a land far away, I was flying helicopters fighting the “Communist insurgent guerilla forces in the viper-infested jungles of South East Asia.” My Uncle Roddy loved Mickey Spillane novels and read them all. He left us most untimely and I loved him. Aunt Margaret boxed up all his books and shipped them to me. I always had one in my flight suit.
So, when I travel, I look for a local bookstore, harder nowadays to find. Our daughter, Neville, lives in Washington. DC. On a visit I was unable to find one in the cradle of our nation’s intellect. In fact, The Oxford Book Store moved to a new building with the feel of Barnes and Noble, no soul, and shortly went kerflooey.
One day, I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been, doing something I shouldn’t have been doing (my life story) and I wound up somewhere I didn’t want to be, seems I remember there were bars and bunk beds. On the top bunk was an old gray-haired man reading a paperback novel. He leaned over and said, “Son, when I finish this book, I’ll give it to you, but let me give you some advice. Always carry a paperback novel because you never know when they will pick you up.” I’ve heeded his words ever since.
I have wandered, often shipwrecked, forlorn upon the sea of life, in pursuit of the perfect bookstore, alas I found treasure, Downtown Books and Purl, proprietress Dale Julian. An oasis in my own backyard.
“A man who can read and does not has no advantage over a man who cannot.” - Mark Twain.
This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Capt. Gill: In search of a bookstore