I sit back and read the announcement’s first paragraph, that whole thing about If Not for This being “crowned.” I reread that, all royalty. But then I get to the killer line, the Jurassic-scale fly in the ointment; “…we would like each winner to choose his or her favorite PNBA member bookstore…” Seriously? One? I mean, you can’t really be serious. Not really.
The big, well-oiled machines of the Northwest coast, Powell’s, Elliott Bay, and Village Books, all pulled in great crowds, Village even drawing readers down from north of the border. They hardly need more praise, but they deserve it, some of the best bookstores on the planet.
Yet, somehow, it’s the smaller, off the beaten path places that seem even more sweet.
Alan and Cynthia Turner of Port Book and News in Port Angeles, Washington have become, like so many of the booksellers in the Northwest, good friends. Over the years they’ve treated us to fabulous dinners, deluxe—as in seriously deluxe—accommodations, and worked like dogs to bring in crowds of serious, fun readers.
Brad Smith of Paulina Springs Books in Sisters, Oregon, not only called, asking if I could squeeze him into a gap in my schedule, he then pointed out hiking trails in the area, introduced me to Jen’s Garden, a fabulous restaurant in town, then broke the motel routine by putting me up in his own home in Bend, sent me on my way the next morning after tea, bacon and eggs, hours of great conversation.
Then I got one of the prettiest drives ever: Crater Lake in fresh snow, the Redwoods to the coast, detouring from the reading path to visit the publisher of my first book, John and Susan Daniel at their home in McKinleyville, remeeting these kind, generous people who started it all.
The ride didn’t get less beautiful. Up the Oregon coast, across the Cascades, readings at Grass Roots in Corvallis, the Book Bin in Salem, and Powell’s, then up the north side of the Columbia, crossing the Palouse into Idaho, to Carol Spurling’s Bookpeople of Moscow. I was tired, worn out from more weeks on the road, and I collapsed in the motel for the hour I had before heading in for one more show, thinking, I’ll admit, Moscow? Really? Like maybe this was wandering too far off the beaten path. But every seat in the store packed, they made it feel like a homecoming, a night I’ll remember for how fun it was, how tuned in the audience was, how ready to laugh, to talk all night. I drove home the next day, seeing hardly a soul, playing the tunes a little louder than the day before, smiling more often. Tired? How could this get tiring?
This particular trip had started a couple of weeks before, with a drive up the Bitterroot, the Salmon, the Big Lost, slipping into Ketchum, Idaho, and Sarah Hedrick’s Iconoclast Books. I hadn’t read in Sun Valley in well over a decade, but rather than host me in her store, Sarah schlepped the books, front and backlist both, around the corner to the Ketchum Community Library and somehow conjured a crowd much like the one in Moscow, almost too much fun to quit on, to call it a night. The two readings the perfect capstones to a long loop, setting me out, bringing me home.
And it had all started three months before at Shawn Wathen’s Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Montana, my home opener, standing room only, a trip to the BitterRoot Brewery after, the perfect taste for the months to come, a chance to introduce Maddy and Dalt to readers across the Northwest, but even more to see friends I hadn’t seen in the years Maddy struggled to find a publisher, the decade since my last book. The whole trip, really, felt like a homecoming, even walking into old stores and finding new people, the next generation taking up the torch.
Nowhere else on the planet have I found people not only so dedicated, so in love with books, with stories, but also just so unnaturally nice. It’s almost a joke, Oh yeah, those people in the Northwest, they’re just not normal.
As usual, arriving home, I unpacked the car, the last thing out the bag of new books, my royalty check up in smoke months before it appears, all of you simply unable not to push favorites on me, to not tell me, “You’ve got to read this!” So, for the rest of this long Montana winter, I’ll take another book off the stack, but the page will open to a particular bookmark, and I will fall not into another story, but into another store, remembering my night there, who brought me, where they sent me next. If that’s not enough to keep me writing, the chance to come back, what else could?
Pete Fromm and Ivan Doig are the only two authors to have received five PNBA Book Awards. After much deliberation, the author will be presented with his award plaque for If Not for This at his local independent bookstore, Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, MT.