Posted in Bookstores, libraries

Bookish Adventures in Seattle

What does a bookworm do with a ton of free time in a big city (aside from reading, that is)? This week I’ve tagged along with my husband while he attends and speaks at SharePoint Fest in Seattle, Washington. As the conference takes up most of the morning and afternoon, I’ve been left to wander the city. Forget the Space Needle, museums, and the aquarium. I’ve turned my week into a bookish tour, visiting bookshops and libraries!

First stop: two bookshops in the Pike Place Market. On the corner of 1st Ave and Pike Street is Left Bank Books, a lofted shop filled with new and used books. According to their website they specialize in “anti-authoritarian, anarchist, independent, radical and small-press titles.” The floor to ceiling shelves are arranged with face out displays and decorated with hand written recommendations and reviews by staff. Up in the loft, you’ll find an office space and an adorable reading nook with a window seat that overlooks the market.

If you wander through the maze of booths and shops inside the market, you’ll find Lamplight Books. This is a small, one room storefront shop filled with new, used, and vintage books on shelves marked with handwritten signage. It’s amazing how many books you can cram into a little space. I didn’t spend much time here, because it gets crowded quickly as the shop fills with browsers.

Next stop: the Seattle Public Library Central Library. This modern downtown library is made up of 11 spiraling floors of books, computers, specialized collections, and meeting spaces. Escalate up to the top floor to peek down over the atrium from the highest vantage point, and then wander down through floors of nonfiction stacks and periodicals. Warning: if you’re not paying attention to way finding signage, you could easily get lost. I loved spending few hours working in the quiet reading room, surrounded by the people of Seattle and visitors like myself snapping photos.

As head of Cataloging and Collection Development at my library, one thing that caught my attention was the lack of Kapco protective covering on their paperback books. We apply the covers to help protect them and prolong the shelf lives of the books, but the those on the shelves here still looked in decent shape. When I asked a staff member, they said they do see some damage from their automatic materials sorter, but admitted the collection team is happy if the cost per circ of a book reaches below $1. Now I’m interested in researching this back home!

My bookish adventures continued with two stores in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. This is my favorite district to explore, mainly because of the rainbow crosswalks and pride flags that decorate every other shop window. The Elliott Bay Book Company is a large independent bookstore located among the coffee shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants. This large, one and half story space offers new and bargain books, a coffee bar, tabletop and staff picks displays, events and book clubs.

My husband and I love supporting locally owned, independent stores, and after wandering around Elliott Bay for close to an hour, we picked up Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett and Dry by Neal Shusterman. We probably would have bought more, but since we only packed a carry on each for our flight, we had to exercise restraint.

The other store on Capitol Hill is probably my absolute favorite. It’s a cat loving bookworm’s dream, but for fans of straightforward organization and those with pet allergies…not so much. Though, I might want to watch what I write here, as I may end up memorialized on plaque in the shop! Seriously, though, I personally have no complaints about this bookstore.

Twice Sold Tales is the home of thousands of books, four cats, and a friendly owner who will rave about almost any book you bring to the counter. Genre sections wind around corners, pause for overstock shelves, and continue across the shop in this maze of shelves. Books are stacked here and there along the floor among open boxes, book carts, chairs and cat trees. When I brought a Star Wars book the counter, the owner exclaimed that she had just bought it the day before, and my buying it that day was a sign that she should get it again.

The last bookish location I visited was the Capitol Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library. This vine-covered, modern building with its window seats, multi-story windows and interior exposed brick wall is like something out of an urban fairy tale. It didn’t take long to explore this quiet, open lofted space, but I could have spent hours there. In fact, if we were to ever move to Seattle, it’d probably be the first place I’d apply if there were an opening. (Don’t worry friends and family, only hypothetically speaking!)

It’s been inspiring to be in a city with so many bookish places to visit (though, I admit, I didn’t get much work done on my current project as I intended). I’ve enjoyed my week in Seattle, but now I’m ready to go home and see my cats again!

Posted in Book Review

Echo and The Traveling Cat Chronicles

I recently celebrated my cat’s 20th birthday. Echo is a grey and caramel colored tabby that I’ve literally had since the day she was born. I love to tell the story. On April 20, 1999, I came home from school to find her mother birthing kittens under a picnic table on the porch in front of god and everyone. The last kitten born I claimed as my own and called her Echo.

The reason I remember so clearly is because of the infamous incident that also took place that day. After my siblings and I moved the mother cat and four tiny kittens into a towel lined box and took them inside, we turned on our television to the news of the Columbine school shooting. The diametrically opposing images of the surviving teenagers fleeing death for safety and mewling newborn kittens were permanently ingrained in my mind.

Not to make light of that tragic event, but I’ve long since considered Echo a survivor too. When they were old enough, her two eldest siblings, grey tabbies we called Bud and Missy, were given away to strangers. We kept Echo and her sister, a yellow tabby we named Milow. A year later, a tornado ripped through our town. Before seeking shelter in the hallway of our basement-less modular home, I ran through the rooms looking for the cats. Echo was the only one I couldn’t find. She must have been outside.

In addition to her birthday, a recent book I picked up made me reflect more on Echo’s life. The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa is an adventurous, fictional tale about a cat named Nana and his caretaker, Satoru, who tries to find a new home for him among his acquaintances. The story alternates between the perspectives of Nana and Saturo’s connections, who reflect on how they know Saturo and events in his past.

Satoru drives Nana from place to place across the countryside, but none of them turn out to be the right fit for the cat. Through most of the novel, the reader is left to wonder why Satoru is trying to find a new home for this seemingly friendly, well behaved feline. Is he moving to a less pet friendly apartment? Is he seeing someone new who’s allergic to cats? All is eventually revealed, and I’ll just say the story is beautiful and heartbreaking in unexpected ways.

Like Nana, I like to say my cat Echo is well traveled too. After that tornado, when we emerged from our home to survey the damage, Echo turned up, having found a safe place under our front porch. Over the next two decades, she followed me from rural homes, to tiny Lawrence apartments, through a three year move to Iowa, and then back to Lawrence. She’s weathered storms, colds, unfortunate flea infestations, the loss of her mother and sister, and the arrival of two new, young feline housemates.

I honestly couldn’t imagine the past twenty years without her. The times when she’s curled up on my lap purring, I cherish the most. I know her time may be drawing to an end, but I look forward to having a few more adventures with her.

Also posted on the Lawrence Public Library Blog

Posted in Reflections

When I First Fell in Love with Reading

Do you remember when you first fell in love with reading? I mean the first time you truly, deeply felt that the world was not right unless you had a book in your hands? For me, I didn’t experience this kind of love until high school.

My grandmother was an avid fan of Jill Churchill, and she introduced me to the mystery author’s Jane Jeffries series when I was a freshman. We quickly bonded over the misadventures of Jane, a suburban housewife turned widow turned amateur detective, and together we’d anticipate each new pun-filled title. Grime and PunishmentSilence of the HamsA Quiche Before Dying  – what’s not to love?

It was my grandmother’s love of these cozy mysteries that inspired me to read more. She revealed to me that Jill Churchill was the pseudonym of Janice Young Brooks, a Kansas City area author who previously wrote historical romances. My grandmother had duplicate copies of a few of these, some even signed by Janice, and she let me borrow them to read too.

My absolute favorite was Seventrees, a multi-generational saga about a Pennsylvania family settling in pre-Civil War Kansas. Crown Sable offers a fascinating look at the American fur trade, Cinnamon Wharf details interesting facts about the spice trade in England and Singapore, and Guests of the Emperor, about British and American women who were imprisoned in a Japanese camp during World War II, was adapted into the television movie Silent Cries.

All of these titles went out of print by the late 1990’s. In the days of dial-up internet, I researched the author and found the full list of her published titles on her now-defunct website. I was excited to share with my grandmother that there were even more novels under her real name and other pseudonyms. Because my grandmother was such a fan, I tasked myself with tracking down ones she didn’t have.

There used to be this perfect used bookstore in Mission. Hidden around the corner of a strip of shops, the store was a maze of book shelves with hardcovers and paperbacks stacked in piles lining the aisles. Definitely not a fire marshal’s ideal, but a bookworm’s dream. One of those places you could get lost in. It was owned and operated by a bearded, heavy set man and his wife. Monthly, I would make the drive out there just to see if they had any of Janice’s books. Each time, I’d ask at the register, and the owner – knowing they were out of print and rare – would pull them from a shelf behind the counter and gruffly hand them to me. Each time I walked away with a new title, I was thrilled to share it with my grandmother.

The summer after my sophomore year at college, my grandmother passed away, and I inherited a number of her books. I remember sorting through musty bookshelves in her sitting room and her basement looking for Janice’s books specifically. Much like you might cling to memorabilia from a first relationship, I’ve held on to these well worn and loved paperbacks. 

I don’t know when or if I’ll get to reading the historical romances or the mysteries again, but I’m really glad that my grandmother introduced me to Janice/Jill and inspired my love of reading. I’ll always think of her when I see them on my bookshelves and feel her with me when I do pick one up.

Also posted on the Lawrence Public Library Blog.