Earlier this month, I went up to visit my sister in Renton, WA. Every time I visit her, I ask to go to an independent bookstore. I love visiting other indie bookstores, seeing how they do things, and seeing books I may not have encountered. Sometimes it isn’t convenient to get to a bookstore during my visit, and this time it was looking like that might be the case. But as we drove in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood in Seattle, headed to the dojo where my sister teaches karate, a sign saying “Phinney Books” caught my eye.
Post-karate, in pouring rain with lightning and thunder, we ate brunch and then, once the weather cleared, walked down the street to the bookstore. As soon as we walked in, I had to laugh in delight at something that caught my eye. Over the fiction section stood big metal letters, perhaps two or three feet tall, that said “MADE UP.” On the other side of the store, matching metal letters above the nonfiction section proclaimed “TRUE.” Fellow booksellers can probably relate to why I said “I want those!” How often have we asked, in trying to help a customer find a book, “Is it fiction or nonfiction?” only to have them scratch their heads and say, “Which is which? Nonfiction, that means not true, right?”
The store was much smaller than our two stores, very well laid out, and inviting, with a comfortable seating area my pregnant sister soon took advantage of as I looked around. I’m always on the lookout for a book to buy when I visit any indie. I considered Lambs of God by Marele Day, a book I’d once been unable to find for a customer because they told me it was simply called Lamb. The premise, a group of nuns living on a remote Celtic isle, intrigued me, but ultimately I decided I wanted something lighter.
While I scoured the YA section for a fun, easy vacation read, my sister found a childhood favorite that made her laugh: Jon Stone and Michael Smollin’s The Monster at the End of This Book. She reminded me how much we loved to read it out loud together as kids, and told me she recently told her husband all about it. I started carrying it around the store (a good sign, as all booksellers know!) and found a board book of Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan,which I’d often seen in a large hardcover at Paulina Springs. I decided to buy both for my soon-arriving nephew, as I was actually busy reading the ARC of Jan Karon’s upcoming novel Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, plus trying hurriedly to finish Kaya McLaren’s upcoming The Firelight Girls so I could leave it with my sister when I went home.
Chatting with the woman at the counter, I discovered she and her husband recently bought the bookstore and remodeled it. It seems to be in a good area with lots of foot traffic. It’s the kind of bookstore that customers tell us Paulina Springs is, where the selection isn’t enormous, but it’s so good that you quickly see several things you want to buy. Holding myself down to two kids’ books was the hard part!
I took the train from Seattle to Vancouver, WA and stopped overnight with an aunt and uncle before heading back to Central Oregon. My Aunt Julie wanted to show me the new Vancouver library, and I told her I’d also like to pop into an independent bookstore. At the new, huge, impressive library, my aunt let me check out a book on her card. I figured I could swallow a graphic novel in one night, and checked out G. Willow Wilson’s The Flying Machine, the first in her “Air” series. I love her graphic novel Cairo, as well as her novel Alif the Unseen, and was eager to see more of her work.
We then drove to Cover to Cover Books, which is in a little strip mall. The setting immediately looked familiar to me. I think I’ve had dreams about working there, or at least in some bookstore in some strip mall. The name was also familiar. Once we went in and started browsing, I realized why. I found tags in the books indicating the store sells online through Abe and Alibris, the sources we use at Paulina Springs to order out-of-print books. We’ve gotten several from Cover to Cover. It was fun to be there at the source!
Cover to Cover has mostly used books, but some new; they also sell coffee drinks, which I eschewed, though not without great temptation, and they have a very nice seating area where a group of friends could meet. I’d only intended to stay a few minutes, but I got sucked into the stacks and couldn’t get out. I wanted to be very selective about what to buy, as my trip money was running low. I found an intriguing used book in the YA section: The Owl Service by Alan Garner,which looked spooky and is set in Wales. As I was about to pay, I discovered the children’s section–and the greeting cards. Now I was in trouble. Still, I managed to escape for relatively little, with my original choice, a used copy of Jean Craighead George’s The Far Side of the Mountain for my husband, who loved its forerunner, My Side of the Mountain, as a boy, and a couple of greeting cards.
I left Washington very pleased that I’d been able to visit two, count ’em, two independent bookstores while being hosted by other people and without my own car. Someday I’d like to do a bookstore tour of the Seattle area…then another one of the rest of Washington…that is, after I do a tour of Oregon bookstores…of course, if I do this, I may come home impoverished. And then there’s the matter of fitting all the newly acquired books onto my shelves after I get home. But it’s always more than worth it.
Amanda MacNaughton is a front-line bookseller and the events manager at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters and Redmond and a regular NWBL contributor. In addition to her Bookselling in the Desert column, MacNaughton has interviewed authors for this site, including Anjali Banerjee, Marcus J. Borg, Brian Doyle and Kirby Larson. She hopes to visit your favorite local bookstore someday.