A bittersweet side of closing down my bookstore, Sun Porch Books on Circuit avenue, is that various customers have had the chance to say goodbye to what they consider “their” books.
Bob Riley of Vineyard Haven, who over the years morphed into my consigliere for hard-boiled detective fiction, was chagrined to see I still had ample copies of Charles Willeford mysteries. They feature an over-the-hill, hard-drinking (of course) Miami cop, one Hoke Moseley, who lumbers his way through humid interiors and steamy Florida streets. Willeford was one of Raymond Chandler’s most genuine heirs and Elmore Leonard’s guru, creating a Miami as noir as Los Angeles was ever cracked up to be. Only minutes after Bob Riley left the shop, a woman came in and bought a set of Willefords for a birthday present: Side-Swipe, The Way We Die Now, New Hope For The Dead, and (my all-time favorite title), The Shark-Infested Custard.
On another recent occasion, a lovely woman named Nancy who lives in Manhattan and summers at her house in the Camp Ground, noticed I had one Sigrid Undset left, an author she’d discovered in college and whom she’d recommended for my store. I told Nancy I’d reserve it for myself, though she cautioned in no uncertain terms I’d have to re-order the first two of the Undset trilogy. Undset won the Nobel Prize in literature, and the back of the copy I have states, “This final chapter in her story emphasizes the medieval belief that the spiritual world has primacy over the material one, a belief with which Sigrid Undset herself concurred but found lacking in most of her contemporaries.” Well, yes . . .
There remain a few titles in the store that have simply never moved from the shelf to someone’s home bookcase, and if even one of these makes it out the door in the liquidation sale, I’ll feel the thrill of an animal shelter worker who finds a home for a two-headed kitty. And this reminds me of the best bookstore anecdote I’ve ever heard, told to me this summer on Jason and Injy Lew’s deck overlooking the harbor:
Jason Balaban, with a house in Chilmark, told me his dad had owned a small independent bookstore in New Jersey for a number of years (a lot of people have owned bookstores for a number of years, just not a lot of numbers of years.) He said his dad had a knack for ordering the occasional ultra-quirky book to match some hoped-for ultra-quirky customer. One day he presented to his staff a big, expensive, coffee table book with sumptuous photos and directions for doing taxidermy the random moose you may have bagged in the Maine woods. The bookstore staff, among them son Jason, objected that no one would ever buy it. Ever.
Well, years elapsed and the moose book collected dust on the shelf. The bookstore owner moved it around, discounted the price until finally, some eight years after acquiring the book, he relegated it to the outdoor bin of the terminally marked-down books, slapping a sticker price of $4.95 on the cover.
A few days later, a man in raggedly clothes with a dusty, untrimmed beard, shuffled to the counter with the moose book under his arm. From his pocket he pulled out four crinkled dollar bills and exact change for ninety-five cents. Richard’s dad placed the book lovingly in a paper bag, and the customer waltzed out the door with it. He was whistling. The bookseller turned to his staff members, who had watched the whole transaction with prolapsed jaws and, raising his arms in victory, said, “You see?”
A message from Judy Kitchin at the Oak Bluffs School reminds us that the annual Vineyard fishing tournament for children will take place at first light tomorrow, Saturday, May 10 at Duarte’s Pond, Lambert’s Cove. Registration will be at the pond. Lots of prizes will be distributed along with refreshments. Bring your own rain gear and, parents, please be on hand for awards from 9:30 to 10 a.m. This event is sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club.
At the Oak Bluffs library on May 22 at 6:30 p.m., Lucie Smith will discuss her recent trip to Viet Nam, including her visit to a school for blind children. She will show a video of her experiences on the library’s big silver screen. Refreshments guaranteed.
Also at the library, on May 17 at 10:30 a.m., Clifford the Big Red Dog will visit in all his scarlet splendor.