Amy Kane, who owns the bookstore in Haines, the tiny Alaska town where I live, tells everyone that my books, especially the most recent one, Of Bears and Ballots, published June 30, 2020, saved her business during the pandemic, but really, The Bookstore saved me.
“Bottom line is without that book we wouldn’t be here,” she said the other day when I stopped in to sign some books and buy a few more. She was holding Olive the cat, and standing by shelves filled with books. I love her store and this town even more because it is here. And Olive? She is perfect.
When Amy bought the once thriving bookstore after it had declined into a dingy craft and music shop that sold a few books and was no longer making any money, I had my hopes… and doubts. It was a big project. With the help of her landlord and the previous longtime bookstore owner, she spent the fall and winter of 2019-20 pulling up the old carpet, changing the layout, stocking shelves and best of all, re-naming it The Bookstore so there would be no confusion about its purpose.
Amy had moved to Haines looking for a new start. She had some friends here, and owning a bookstore was her dream. It was a huge leap. She opened with much joy and fanfare on March 6, 2020.
I know. A week before Alaska and much of the country locked down for COVID-19.
“Some people might say, ‘holy cow that’s terrible timing,’” Amy told me. “But it’s actually perfect.” (She is a very positive person.) She believes that because locals saw her commitment to our town and all the books, even though we didn’t know her very well, when everything closed, people went “way out of the way” to support her.
But can we please go back to how I supposedly saved The Bookstore? Let’s change the narrative to how The Bookstore saved me. Of Bears and Ballots came out during those scary lockdown days, and is about my sometimes-scary three-year term in local government that began with the election in 2016 and in many ways mirrored national politics. I think it’s my best book, and it is certainly my most emotional and difficult to write. I was anxious about the reception, especially in Haines. But it seemed nothing much would happen. No tour, no cool bookstores hosting me. Who would even know it existed? Who would read it? Did all my work and angst even matter? My poor publisher.
Then Amy, a Haines arts organization, and Algonquin teamed up to host a Zoom book launch when Zoom was new to many. It is hard to describe how good it made me feel. People came, a lot of them, my friends and neighbors and some from far away. The audience laughed and gasped and cried some with me as I shared the story. Amy and I offered to personalize signed copies for folks in Haines if they emailed or called her store, and then, since it was all distance sales and signing anyway, we figured we could do the same for readers anywhere. I blogged about it, and pretty soon business for Amy took off, and my books flew out into the world. Hundreds of them. People wanted to help a small bookstore, and a small town author. Amy spent a lot of time on the phone with strangers that became friends. “Your readers are generous folks. They are nice to talk to,” Amy says. For her it all “feels homey, and right.”