Every leap year, Neil Gaiman’s clever note about taking writers out to dinner on February 29th circulates, and every leap year, writers rejoice. And a few of them actually get a decent meal, too. But what about booksellers? Extra Leap Year Day is already taken, and it’s sorta awkward if we try to muscle in on that day. There are enough people pretending to be authors as it is.
But here’s the thing. We booksellers have something more to offer than writers. Sure, writers can turn a clever phrase at the dinner table and all that. Some of them are even charming during the pre-dinner cocktail hour. But what do they leave behind when they are finally ushered out of the house? A bit of lingering malaise, perhaps, not unlike the smell of wet dog hair burning on the radiator. Or, a bit of expiring ennui, the sort of emotional effluvium that makes you cry for no apparent reason when you’re loading the dishwasher. Booksellers, on the other hand, leave books behind.
Like this. Hey, Cooper, it’s been three weeks since I was over for dinner. Have you noticed this book in your bathroom yet?
Yes, booksellers bring books. We could bring booze, but you’re running the risk of us drinking it while working up the courage to get out of the car and approach the house. And the sort of books we bring are books you never knew you needed until you find it “accidentally” left behind.
Kuwahara Katsuko’s Bread and a Dog, for instance. It’s a small book—the sort that fits right into a purse or a jacket pocket, and readily falls out while you’re in the guest bathroom—and is nothing more than pictures of a dog who is hoping to get some breakfast. It’s what happens when a professional food stylist has a well-trained, but eternally vigilant, dog. You’ll be surprised at the variety of a) breakfasts and b) canine expressions, and ultimately, c) the noises your guests will make as they try to chose a favorite pairing of a) and b).
Another favorite is a copy of Andy Selsberg’s Dear Old Love, which is a collection of the best anonymous letters left on the website of the same name, where people can submit that lingering note they always wanted to leave for both those that got away and the ones they got away from. This book fits nicely on the sidebar when you’re going to get another refill on your wine or another martini, and it’s especially good for parties filled with people who don’t know each other very well. Nothing is a better icebreaker than reading aloud someone else’s scathing send-off of a miserable relationship.
And, as noted in the picture above, Cory O’Brien’s George Washington is Cash Money is perfect bathroom reading. As is O’Brien’s Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes. Though, either book won’t stay in the bathroom long, as guests will wander out with the book in hand. “Hang on, you’ve got to hear this,” they’ll say, and then they’ll launch into the reason why Paul Bunyan is such a terrible boss. Or why the Norse are so Metal. Or how Ra solved the quintessential conundrum of whether the chicken or the egg came first.
If you have a chance to wander out into the garage, you can slip a copy of the Los Alamos Rolodex onto the tool bench somewhere. This volume is a selection of the business cards from seven rolodexes that once belonged to an employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and they’re an interesting collection of companies and individuals who were part of the arms race during the ‘60s and ’70s. Most of these companies no longer exist, but for the conspiracy theorists, this is brain fever fodder. Especially if they don’t know how the book ended up in their garage. (And part of me wonders if there’s a whiff of Warren Ellis’ Global Frequency to be found among these cards . . .)
Finally, there’s Becky Blades’ recently released Do Your Laundry Or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening. You can sidle up to the host of the party at some quiet moment when no one is watching, slip this book into their hands, and then give them a quick little hug. It’s absolutely okay to dart away immediately afterward, but know they’ll totally make eye contact from across the room later, after they’ve read a few pages. Which will tell you a lot about how much they love their moms. Even if they didn’t listen to them all that well over the years.
Mark Teppo is a publisher, author, and bookseller in the South Puget Sound area. He’s a terrible host, because he has all these books on his shelf already, plus many more stacked up in every corner. Fortunately, he doesn’t mind being invited over for dinner.