Books are always on my mind—what I’m currently reading, what I plan to read next, and what was most memorable about the book I just finished. Most often, when I’ve finished a book I’ve loved, I let it linger with me for at least several days before I pick up a new book—to think about the characters, the story, the language, the influence the book has had on me. During the pandemic and now, with personal and political worlds in chaos, books helped make me whole again. Books became, and have remained, essential companions in challenging times. For at least some time each day, I could escape into pages, safer worlds that illuminated different ways of being, thinking, and knowing. I could allow myself to be seduced and inspired by words, stories, and living other lives through literature any time I desired. I could choose from the short stack of books I always have at the ready— to comfort, delight, inform, and settle me.
Beyond reading books, a big part of my escape from a turbulent world included my writing a genre-breaking book, a book I hoped might soothe my soul and also give hope and inspiration to others. After teaching, coaching, and leading in underperforming schools in the U.S. and Canada for five decades—and having written a dozen books on literacy essentials—the what, why, and how of equitable, excellent, and joyful teaching for all learners, I wanted to write a personal and professional book about the intersection of teaching, learning, and living and how to live a good life despite the hardships and challenges we all inevitably face. The Heart-Centered Teacher: Restoring Hope, Joy, and Possibility in Uncertain Times (Routledge, Sept. 2023) is that book—memoir snippets, stories, approaches to teaching and living, and living with hope and loving kindness—even in tough times.
Another piece of my escape was, and continues to be, a very special bookstore, Madison Books, a lovely neighborhood space which feeds my hunger for all kinds of books, mostly beautifully written fiction and nonfiction and especially memoir. I now order just about all my books through this independent bookstore and delight in knowing some of the money from sales gets funneled back into the community in the form of rent, wages, and so forth instead of going into the pockets of distant shareholders. (Madison Books, located in the Seattle area, is a member of Bookshop.org, a worldwide, online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores.)
This marvelous bookstore in our small community has literally changed my life. It has become my place of tranquility and happiness amidst ongoing pandemic anxiety, dreary weather, and uncertain times. I visit the shop often—to peruse new books, pick up books I have ordered, and purchase books for myself and as gifts for others. Although the bookstore is tiny, about 400 square feet, it is wonderfully organized and somehow manages to have almost everything I am looking for. If not, the bookseller, most often the general manager James Crossley, cheerfully orders what I am looking for and gives me a call as soon as the book or books arrive. Over time, James and I have become book friends, which is a delight. I seek and trust his recommendations; we chat about what we are reading.
Having this magical bookstore close by is a joy. In fact, walking into Madison Books is like being welcomed home. It is my favorite source for buying, browsing, and thinking about books to read. In large part, this magic is due to James, who is the most well-read and thoughtfully-read person I know. He has been a passionate book lover all his life and considers himself fortunate to have found the job he loves— parlaying his love of reading to connecting people with books. James’ dignity, authority, and professional manner bathe the bookstore in an aura of calm, peace, and serendipity. Adventures just waiting to be had. Books waiting to be discovered. Books beautifully displayed, everywhere.
So when my new book, The Heart-Centered Teacher: Restoring Hope, Joy, and Possibility in Uncertain Times was close to being published in September 2023, I knew I wanted a book party, not just a book signing but a celebration of all the hard work and all the people who had made the book possible. And I knew that the book event needed to be with James Crossley at Madison Books, and he graciously acquiesced. Especially now when the world is in chaos, it felt important to celebrate, and celebrate we did.
My terrific editor and publisher, Lauren Davis, flew to Seattle from New York for the book party. I wanted to celebrate her for her brilliance, generosity, and our wonderful friendship which evolved over our 1 ½ year collaboration. I wanted to celebrate James for his gracious and graceful management of this beautiful bookstore and his comforting, knowledgeable presence there; my dear husband Frank for his loving and unwavering support, guidance and patience; family members who had been cheering me on; and dear friends who had championed my efforts. The celebration was a big hit, with lots of gratitude and love all around; it was a wonderful party. I could hardly wait to see James to thank him for making it all possible and to talk with him about the event. (You can enjoy a one-minute video overview of the event here.)
When I walked into the bookstore several days later, I was taken aback when James told me he would be moving to another city in a couple of months. He explained his reasons, which were personal ones which made perfect sense for his optimal quality of life and pursuit of happiness. I chose my response carefully. I said how happy I was for him, that he’d made the right decision, that I would miss him, of course, and I wished him well. All of that is true and heartfelt, but I was also filled with sadness about his upcoming move. It is no exaggeration to say that he has been essential to expanding my book reading life and accompanying sense of wellbeing. While it’s a commonly held belief among many that most people are replaceable in the job they hold, in James’ case he truly is irreplaceable. Of course, I didn’t tell him that. I wanted only to show my support and happiness for him.
And now, I am already missing him, this gem of a person who has enriched my life, brought books and order to a chaotic world, and who has become a cherished friend. I will always be grateful to him for his quiet steadfastness, gentle spirit, and generosity—and his passion for books and reading.
Regie Routman has more than 50 years of experience teaching, coaching, and leading in diverse, underperforming schools and classrooms across the U.S. and Canada. Her many research-based books and resources have supported hundreds of thousands of educators to create and sustain intellectual, joyful, and equitable school cultures where all learners can thrive. For full information on Regie’s books, articles, podcasts, videos and resources, go to www.regieroutman.org.