A Pointless Drive

In two weeks I am having a baby shower for my daughter.

So yesterday I went shopping for her baby shower gifts. I bought some baby outfits and a little snuggly bunny. And of course, I bought books. Well I bought one, and I have one on hold down at that dreadful Barnes and Noble in CT that I will pick up when I am in Enfield tomorrow.

The book I bought at my regular Barnes and Noble is the complete collection of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, a beautiful hard cover with a blue satin ribbon marker and the original illustrations. The other, which they didn’t have but which the sales lady was nice enough to call around to area stores to look for, and reserve in Enfield for me, is a complete collection of Beatrix Potter. Judging by the price, I’m assuming it will be of similar quality to the Pooh book.

I chose to get these books because my daughter, like myself, is an avid reader and I know she will enjoy reading these books to my grand-daughter starting at a very early age. It’s never too early to start reading to a child.

But finding these book. Wow. The last place I really wanted to end up yesterday was Barnes and Noble. I like it there, but I go there on a fairly regular basis and I really wanted to shop for books someplace a little more interesting. So first I made the half hour trek north to, what was at one time, my favorite indie shopping haven. Northampton.

Now, once upon a time, I’d say maybe ten or fifteen years ago, Northampton was the place you could go to find anything you might be looking for, or even to find something you didn’t know you were looking for until you saw it. It was just block after block of independently owned bookstores, new age shops, consignment shops with some of the most interesting second-hand stuff imaginable, army surplus stores, handmade crafts and jewelry, music stores, *adult* shops, not to mention the restaurants. It was just an awesome place. You could park your car for the day and shop or sit on a bench and eat ice cream or enjoy a meal or even just walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of a carefree and creative college town. Back in the 90s my friend and I would go up there several times a month and just have the best time.

But now, everything seems gone. I miss stores like Beyond Words, a bookstore which also sold crystals and oils and incense. It seems most of the stores now are expensive clothing boutiques where, if god forbid you’re not a size 2, you will never fit into anything. Other than that it’s mostly restaurants, pricey organic juice/coffee bars and a few art galleries, spas, fine jewelry stores, shoe and purse stores, and doctors and lawyers offices. It definitely seems to cater more towards the upscale crowd now. It’s lost a lot of the bohemian hippy vibe that I used to love. From what I hear it still has a pretty active club scene at night, but I’m not much into clubbing these days. My boyfriend and I go up there occasionally to eat at Fitzwilly’s or the Teapot and then we’ll walk around a little and maybe buy a couple of things if anything catches our eye. This is the first time I’ve gone up there strictly for shopping in a long time tho, and I think it will most likely be the last. I’ll still go up there to eat and I’ll go up there for Pride day. But I don’t enjoy shopping up there anymore.

Unless it’s at Raven Used Books.

I did stop in at Raven. I love that store. For those who have never been there, it’s a little used bookstore in the basement of a building near Thorne’s Marketplace. It’s just a couple of rooms with floor to ceiling book shelves packed with books, and books piled on top of the shelves, and books stacked on tables and chairs and on the floor, and its dim and narrow and cave-like. It’s just the awesomest place ever to creep around looking for something unusual or obscure. I resisted buying anything tho, cuz I needed to save my money for gift buying.

I also checked out Booklink inside Thorne’s. It’s a small but very nice two-level store with a coffee bar. I’d been in there before, last summer, to buy a book for my two grandchildren who were up from Texas at the time. They sell high quality children’s books and I thought they might have what I was looking for, but didn’t. And of course the children’s store, where a few years back Id originally seen the Beatrix Potter collection I was looking for, was unfortunately long gone. Theres another bookstore further up towards the college, but it was very cold and windy and snowing and I didn’t want to walk that far in the cold when the likelihood that they would have what I was looking for was close to zero.

So, after a fruitless search for non-existent book stores and paying too much money for a thimble sized cup of mint hot chocolate that tasted like toothpaste, I trudged back to my car thru a swirl of wind-blown snowflakes and made my way to my inevitable destination of Barnes and Noble.

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All Barnes & Nobles Are Not Created Equal

I had some time to kill in Enfield, CT the other night. Most unfortunate. Anybody who knows me knows that my dislike of Connecticut knows no bounds. So anyways I had about an hour and a half, so I headed to the only place I could think of that I might enjoy myself, Barnes & Noble.

Up until now the only B&N I’ve ever been to is the one in Holyoke, MA, which is the closest one to my house, and the one where my writing group is held. Now that one is huge. It has two floors and a large Starbucks cafe and computers to search for store items and a lot of open spaces with tables and chairs and benches and about a dozen or so big cushioned armed chairs scattered throughout the store. There is even a new Lego play table area for the children. There is a whole separate room just for movies and music and another dedicated just to children’s books. Free wi-fi goes without saying. And with large windows, high ceilings and bookshelves low enough that I can, at 5’6″, see over the tops of most of them, the store is bright, airy and open. It’s a very pleasant, comfortable place to spend time. Except when there is alot of screaming kids throwing Legos.

The Enfield store, on the other hand, blows big ol’ chunks.

First of all its only one floor. And that one floor is only about three-quarters of the size of one floor of the store in Holyoke. It’s like a claustrophobic rat maze. The shelves tower over head and criss cross in all different directions so you can’t see more than a few feet in any direction from the second you walk in the store. The passageways between shelves are so narrow it feels like they are closing in on you, like the trash compactor in Star Wars, slowly crushing the life out of you. There are no computers. There are no chairs other than the half-dozen or so tiny cafe tables at the little Starbucks crammed in the corner. I didn’t even bother checking to see if they had wi-fi. I would assume they did, I think all B&Ns do. But really, whats the point if you can’t sit and relax and enjoy using it. And then to get to the registers, you have to squeeze thru a narrow opening between a shelf and a counter, which is blocked by a sign instructing you to “enter here” for check-out.

So to summarize-Holyoke store: GREAT, Enfield store: SUCKS

I’ve been to quite a few book stores in my life. Some good, some bad. This was definitely not one of the better ones. I also wasnt very fond of the Borders that used to be at the Holyoke Mall, altho it was better than the B&N in Enfield. I have a few favorite places to buy books besides the  B&N in Holyoke. I like The Odyssey in South Hadley and Raven Used Books in Northampton. When I used to live in Ware I went to a used book store called The Book Bear in West Brookfield. And never underestimate what you can find in the book section of your local Thrift Store. I have dozens of books that I bought at the Salvation Army. And the Salvation Army at least has comfortable chairs and couches to sit on while you look over your books. Which is more than I can say for the B&N in Enfield.

Its funny, when I was growing up, I had tons of books, but I don’t remember for the life of me where I shopped for them. I remember spending a lot of time at the library and having a lot of library books. But I don’t remember where I bought the books I owned. I only recall the occasional purchase at discount stores or pharmacies as a teenager. Mostly cheap paperback versions of Stephen King or other horror/suspense novels. But as for the majority of my childhood collection, I have no idea. Obviously my parents bought a lot of them for me, but where? I don’t remember ever seeing or going to an actual bookstore as a child. Hm.

Cabin Fever

I dunno about anybody else, but I’m done with winter. Not that its been a particularly cold or snowy winter here in Massachusetts, but it’s still been too cold to enjoy being outside. I can’t tolerate cold due to some chronic health issues, so I’m not a big fan of winter. And I’m tired of being cooped up in this house. Tired of the stagnant air that’s been re-circulating thru my ventilation system all winter. Tired of breathing animal hair and dry dust. I want to open all the widows and doors and let a spring breeze sweep thru the house and blow all the stale air out. I went out and bought some new house plants this weekend. Just to have something fresh and green around me. I used to have some really nice house plants a couple of years ago, but when I went to Texas to visit my grandchildren, a certain person who shall remain nameless *cough*myboyfriend*cough* forgot to water them and they were all dead when I came back.

I love being outside, especially when it comes to reading. I have two places outside my house where I like to sit and read. My boyfriend and his friend built a big deck on the back of our house a couple of years ago and we have a patio table and chairs where I can sit when its nice out. If its raining out I have my front porch with a couple rocking chairs and a coffee table. I cant wait to grab a book and go outside and read with the warmth of the sun on my back to get rid of the chill in my bones that never seems to leave me these days. Unfortunately I can’t tolerate extreme heat any better than the cold so once we get into July and August I’ll be just as miserable as I am now. I get overheated or chilled very easily. My boyfriend says I’m like a lizard. The only way I can warm up or cool down is by going to a warmer or cooler area. I think I may be the world’s only living cold-blooded mammal.

My favorite outdoor place to read, when I can get there, is on the beach. I love to lay on the warm sand with the seagulls crying overhead, and the sound and scent of the sea all around me (score extra points if a fruity rum drink is involved). The ocean is the one place where I feel truly at peace and spiritually recharged. I love books about the sea or that take place on or near the ocean. My two most recent book purchases relating to the sea are Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau and The Outermost House by Henry Beston, both about Cape Cod, which is my favorite place on earth.

Of course now I have Sailing by Christopher Cross stuck in my head.

Another beautiful place to read outdoors is at the top of Mount Greylock. It is located in the north-western corner of Massachusetts and is the highest point in the state. You can see for hundreds of miles, all the way into upstate New York. The air up there is the freshest air I’ve ever breathed. It’s really a spectacular place. I would love to pack a lunch and go up there and spread a blanket out on the mountain top and read all day. Herman Melville had a home near the base of Mount Greylock where he wrote Moby Dick. Nathaniel Hawthorne also lived in the area for a short time and it was there that he wrote The House of Seven Gables.

Unfortunately the coast and the mountains are both several hours drive from my house and not someplace I can go on a regular basis. Closer to home there are a few places I like to go to read outdoors. The closest is in downtown Springfield, in the courtyard of the Quadrangle, where the museums and library are. There is a grassy lawn and benches and in the middle is the Dr. Seuss memorial (for those of you who don’t know, Dr. Seuss was born here in Springfield). Stanley Park in Westfield is also a nice place to go. There are fields and a large garden and a duck pond and woods that offer a variety of settings to settle down for a day of outdoor reading. And there is the Village Commons in South Hadley. A collection of shops and restaurants with brick paved walkways and steps and terraces and fountains and plenty of benches and outdoor cafe tables with umbrellas to sit at and enjoy a book and a drink or a meal. There are also some grassy areas perfect for spreading a blanket. And there’s a nice book store and a used book store/coffee and wine bar there as well.

And I think it goes without saying that all the places I’ve talked about are perfect places to write as well. Unless your me. My writer’s block isn’t picky about location. It tags along and prevents me from writing no matter where I go.

Cuckoo For Classics

Is it that unusual to see somebody reading classic literature these days? I mean without having it forced on them by a teacher or professor? The classics are classics for a reason. Because they have been enjoyed by so many people across decades or centuries or even millennia.

I was at a physical therapy session one afternoon about a year ago, and I brought a book with me to read while I was having the heat and electroshock treatment on my back. So I’m laying there reading (the book was A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway), and the therapist comes in and says, “Oh you must be in college.” I say, “No why?” And she gestures at my book and says, “I figured it must be a school assignment. His writing is so boring.”

Ok, so, ignoring the fact that my taste in books was just insulted, lets look at the fact that a person would think its odd that I would choose to read this book. A classic work is valuable, not only as a work of literature, but as a snapshot of the time in which it was written. You can learn a lot about an era by its books and its authors. A Moveable Feast is interesting as a book, but it also gives you an intimate look into the art and literary community in 1920’s Paris, and the expatriate writers who lived there. A time and place which, by the way, I would love to get ahold of a time machine and move to. As long as I can live in a house with electricity. And a toilet. And a bathtub. With hot water. Would wi-fi be asking too much?

But I do love my classics. I have a fairly good-sized collection of classics with authors ranging from Louisa May Alcott to Edgar Allan Poe to the Marquis de Sade. On my shelves you will find Peter Pan and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dracula and Frankenstein, Delta of Venus and The Story of O.

I’m also constantly floored by the number of people I run into that haven’t even heard of many of the classic authors. There are actually people who exist in the world who are unfamiliar with the names Melville, Brönte, Milton, Woolf, Dumas, Hawthorne. People who see me reading The Fountainhead while I’m waiting for my shift to start and tell me they’ve never heard of it. People who think Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a completely original work. People who think Dante’s Inferno is just a video game (that I totally want to play). And I’m not talking about immigrants from third world countries, I’m talking about Americans. Grown-up ones.

Interesting fact: If you type Dante’s Inferno into a search engine you will get more websites about the game then about the book. The games sites will even be listed ahead of the book sites. What does that tell you? (Other then that the game is probly really cool.)