Perhaps it's my destiny in life to relate to books in almost every possible way. I read them. I sell them. I've helped edit them. I'm writing some of my own. And I'm in two books, too.
When I was growing up, my dad, Jon Remmerde, wrote a memoir of the eight and-a-half years our family lived on a wild, beautiful cattle ranch in a ghost town in northeastern Oregon called Whitney. We lived in an old house that didn't have electricity or plumbing (except for an old pitcher pump), and we homeschooled. We were close to incredible things every day, from sandhill cranes, elk, and wildflowers to dramatic thunderstorms and the Northern Lights.
Out of circumstance and necessity—dad was the ranch caretaker—we lived a life that's now almost trendy. Shortly after we moved from there, Dad wrote a book about it, Somewhere in an Oregon Valley. Later, Dad collected pieces that had been published in short form into a narrative collection, Quiet People in a Noisy World. Of course, I am in the books, along with my sister, Juniper.
The books have been out for some time, but it wasn't until I started working at Paulina Springs Books that I felt free to really promote them, and even then I felt a lot of hesitation. Would people think it was weird if I hand-sold them a book I'm in? Would they believe I was selling them the book on its own merits, not just because it's by someone I'm related to? Worst of all, would they judge me about incidents involving me in the book?
The best solution for me to minimize those possibly awkward interactions was to make one of the books a staff pick. I wanted to do this with Somewhere first, since it's my favorite. I just couldn't quite think how. Should I say in the review that the book was by my dad?
When I do handsell the book, I've found that people's eyes light up and they often bring it up to the counter to buy it if I tell them “My dad wrote that book,” so I decided to be candid in my review. While re-reading the book, I discovered, with an adult perspective, that it is a delightful read. Some of my embarrassment has dissipated, because we're really all just characters in a great story. I believe all memoir authors choose, to some degree, how to characterize and present themselves, and Dad did that with all of us.
Customers ask me questions as they read it, the most common being, “Why doesn't he tell more about the family?” and, “Are your memories as full of joy as his?”
As for the first question: It's not an accident that he doesn't tell more about the inner lives of the rest of us. We all talked as Dad wrote. He was concerned about whether it was okay to write about our childhoods. He'd read that Christopher Robin Milne grew up to resent the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, his father having based the character Christopher Robin on his childhood. We told Dad we didn't think we'd feel that way. We all agreed from the outset that the book was his book, that he would present his own experiences, impressions and feelings. Of course, he'd write about the rest of the family, but in the end, it would be what he observed about us. If any of us wanted our internal perspectives represented, we could write about it ourselves.
To the second question: are my memories as happy?—which is usually asked with subtext that indicates the reader suspects my childhood simply couldn’t have been that idyllic—I have to say, yes. Certainly, there were downsides to the way we lived. I recall that at times I was lonely and wished for more friends to play with, and that sometimes it was hard “living the simple life” (read “being poor”). But really, what we all remember and talk about lovingly and wistfully is the land, so achingly gorgeous that it's what I imagine Paradise to be. And the freedom—huge expanses of time, not ruled by clocks and schedules, and space in which to play; ride bikes, swim in the river and, of course, read.
As for my anticipation of embarrassment, sure, there's been a little. When a regular customer told me in a singsong voice, “I'm reading about you when you were a little gir-irl!” and then told me about the scene she was currently reading, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to smack her or disappear. Instead, I nodded and tried to act good-natured. It's not always easy to explain the mix of pride and embarrassment I feel about being in a book, not even to my own family. I guess the closest I can come to explaining it is to ask you to imagine how you’d feel if your parents brought the family photo album to your workplace and showed cute and interesting photos of you to your clients while you were trying to do your job and stay professional. Maybe it’s sort of that sheepish feeling I think most people get when their parents brag about them.
The portrayal of me in the book is loving and proud, which is wonderful, and yet I’m just me, full of flaws and foibles. As a former homeschooler, it’s also taken me longer than average, perhaps, to feel truly independent of my parents, so being forever linked to them in a book is a mixed thing. While I love them intensely, I still strive to be recognized as a mature and independent individual.
One day, Karen Sullivan, daughter of novelist and hiking guide guru William Sullivan, came in to the store with her father. Karen is notably present in Sullivan's excellent read Cabin Fever, which shares some similarities with my dad's books. She's now somewhere around my age.
I told Karen about Dad's books and asked if she ever felt a little self-conscious about being in a book. “Not usually,” she said. “Sometimes people embarrass me a little.” Then she plucked Somewhere in an Oregon Valley off the shelf, opened it at random, and, seemingly by magic, lit on a passage about me, which she started to read out loud. “Do people do that to you?” she asked me. “That's what people always do to me.” We smiled at each other. I felt like I'd finally found somebody who really got 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 monthly Bookselling in the Desert column, MacNaughton has interviewed many authors for this site, including Anjali Banerjee, Marcus J. Borg, Brian Doyle and, most recently, Kirby Larson.