I have this very good friend, who may or may not be named Laura Chickson, who buys me books every Christmas. They’re books I’ve never heard of and when I open them, I ask, “Do I love it?” And she, who is peaceful and easy, just sweetly nods.
Last year, my gift was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, and I am halfway through and I am already dreading the moment it will end. (Yes, of course, I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me so long to read it.) It’s about this guy who owns a bookstore and finds a small child left in his shop, and the back cover says, “an unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over – and see everything anew.” This sort of phrase is catnip to me. The idea that our yesterday doesn’t define us and that today can be different is inspiring and hopeful, keeps me looking up and moving forward. And turning pages.
I love turning pages, books and the simple act of reading. I miss book stores. Like everyone else, buying books online is easy and quick and I appreciate the “people who bought this also bought…” but something has been lost. I miss record stores more than I can express. Tuesdays used to be the day for new releases, and I played hooky more Tuesdays than I’d care to admit. And I’d trade “people who bought this” for Joe at Record Connection, who said, “since you love Morrissey so much, you really need to have this Smoking Popes disc.” The album was Born To Quit, and he was so right. He had a band called the Neverminds and they were just as good as you’d hope they would be.
So. I miss record stores. I miss small grocery stores named after the owner. Not WalMart named after Sam Walton, more like Phares’s in Adamstown, named after Phares Harting. I miss real people talking and knowing what you like and what you are like. About 10 years ago, a co-worker invited me to a men’s group at a local mega-church, and I told him that I had already been invited by another co-worker (they must’ve thought I needed it badly, which I did), and neither had any idea they attended the same church.
But we live in a place where many small fish are being swallowed up by few gigantic sharks. And that’s ok, I guess, but only sometimes. The day I realized I had to quit my job at the Wall (an extinct local record store), a customer came in and asked me, “what do I want?” and I told him, in the snobby judgmental way I loved, “no question. Norah Jones, man.” And I showed it to him – debut Come Away With Me – then said, “but you’ll want to but it at the WalMart.” It was 18.99 at the Wall, and 9.99 down the street. I like record stores, but I like paying less, too. Maybe if I knew it meant we’d have no more Joe’s at Record Connection, I’d have paid a bit more. Sigh.
Anyway. This book is amazing, perfectly paced and each word in the right place. (As I write that, the same could be said about my friend Laura.) I’ll be sure and tell you how it ends.