The Pacific Northwest Book Award Committee recognized late author Brian Doyle with an Indie Spirit Honor for his body of work and vigorous support of independent booksellers in the Northwest and beyond. Doyle passed away in May 2017. We republish this essay that he wrote upon winning a 2016 PNBA Award in memory of his work and his life and in celebration of his 2018 Indie Spirit Honor.
What did I think of when I learned that my peculiar collection of essays had won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award?
Weirdly, not the barrels of cash and fine wines and excellent cheeses that would surely come my way, or the hordes of somber graduate students that would soon be studying my semicolons, or the surely forthcoming invitations to join Bruce Springsteen on stage, or the fact that now I would always share a sentence with Ursula Le Guin, or even how delighted my lovely bride would be, that poor brave woman; she has had to read every single word I have published in the last thirty years, what did she ever do to deserve such a fate?
Nor did I think first of how my aged and graceful and witty parents, the generous souls who taught me to read and write, would be thrilled and proud, or how my children would be secretly proud, but in the way of children would razz me about it and pretend that I was getting all puffbrained about the whole thing, nor did I think how cool it would be to tell the heroic folks at my beloved local library about it, which would indeed be totally cool, because I have spent no kidding thousands of hours in my town library, including many hours when our children were little and we never missed a Storytime Hour during which many times I fell asleep and drooled on my children’s heads, which they are still a little bitter about, or so they say, wetly.
No, the very first image that flickered in my mind unbidden was of a corner of a bookstore—any little brave clean redolent bookstore I have been to over the years, on islands and beaches and mountains and in cities and the high sage desert that is so much of the West. I didn’t imagine my book prominently displayed with a new glowing gold sticker proclaiming its glorious Awarditude, and I didn’t imagine the wry patient bookstore owners, who were probably poring over their profit statements and wondering what they would do with the nickel this month.
I just imagined, for an instant, a corner of the store. You know the corner I mean. It’s clean and there are lots of absorbing unusual books there, from all sorts of writers, most of whom you never heard of. It’s the sort of corner by a window where you linger a little maybe because of the wet silver light, and a certain book reminds you of a book you loved as a kid, and you decide to get it for a gift, and then you notice a book you always meant to read but haven’t yet, and you stand there with the two books in your hand and think about how thirty bucks is a serious splurge, but then you think, hey, books are good things, books are story-catching devices, books have that lovely friendly tactile heft in the hand, books jazz readers, books are like windows that let new angles of light in, and you resolve to buy them, idly thinking also what the heck the two bucks in profit for the store might help them stay in business another two minutes and I love having a funky friendly clean warm little village green of a bookstore in my town, and I am not alone in that feeling either.
I know it’s weird to say I didn’t hop around crowing over a totally cool award, but the fact is that I just sat here at my desk thinking of that little silvery-lit corner of a brave little bookstore. Isn’t that odd? Then I told my lovely bride right quick, sure I did, because she deserves to be told more than anyone, and then I told my mom and dad, because when you have news of how you did not for once totally screw up, you call your mom and dad, if you are still lucky enough to have such warm funny witty forebears. Then I sat there for a while thinking about how I would now always share a sentence with Ursula Le Guin, and what could be cooler than that?
Portland author Brian Doyle won a 2016 PNBA Award for his book of essays, Children & Other Wild Animals. He shared this original essay with us in celebration of the award. Doyle also wrote a loving essay about Broadway Books’ 20th anniversary in 2012. In 2011, Amanda MacNaughton interviewed him about his novel, Mink River. In fact, our archives are full of treasures from or related to Brian. He will always be in our hearts.