Here’s a guest blog I wrote a while back for the fabulous blog Sheistoofondofbooks. Dawn (the “she” in that title) is the very first blogger I ever met, and she was generous enough to invite me to guest-blog on her site and then re-print my essay here. If you haven’t checked out Dawn’s blog, I urge you to do so – it’s addictive!
Bookstores are maybe my favorite places on Earth.
As a kid, I regularly cajoled my parents into driving me to my favorite, deliciously musty-smelling used bookstore, which always had a stack of dog-eared Nancy Drew’s (a few minutes of whining usually did the trick; my parents had three hyperactive kids and were pretty well beaten down by that point).
As an adult, I parked my laptop in a corner of my neighborhood Barnes & Noble and Borders and tried to cajole myself into writing a few more pages of my novel. “Look at all these gazillions of books around you,” I’d admonish myself. “If those authors could do it, so can you.” (“Can I have a cookie first?” My inner child would whine, and indulgent parent that I am, I always gave in.)
But my favorite bookstore?
It’s the Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut, and it just may be the greatest place on earth. I get to go there only once every year, when I visit my parents in their small summer cabin on a lake where minnows nibble at your toes if you stand still for long enough.
People who aren’t book lovers might get confused when they first enter The Book Barn. But for those of us who can’t ever seem to read enough – well, we’re the ones who look around and breathe a great big sigh of contentment and wonder what we ever did to deserve a place like this.
Calling it a book “barn” is an understatement. There is a barn full of books, yes, but there are also five other buildings on the sprawling grounds, all stuffed with every kind of book you could ever imagine, and then some. There are friendly goats penned nearby (well, some are friendly – one is downright bossy) and you can buy a handful of food for them for a quarter. A dozen or so cats roam around, eyeing your lap as though assessing its napping potential should you decide to sit down.
The first thing you do is grab one of the bags The Book Barn leaves out for customers. Then you wander around, filling it up. It’s a pretty simple formula for joy. The Book Barn offers a map, but I prefer to leave my journey to serendipity. The last time I was there, I stumbled across a David Sedaris book I didn’t even know existed, and I snatched it up like it was mined gold. I usually stick a few mysteries in my bag, along with bestsellers for a fraction of the cover price, but I also leave room for books I’d never normally pick up. The prices are so low that you can risk buying books outside of your comfort zone.
After I’ve browsed a few buildings and fed a few goats (the bossy one tries to hog all the food, but with effort, I can occasionally outsmart him), I head up a flight of stairs to the cashiers’ building – but not to pay! No, this is just a midpoint stop for me, because here the goodies await. I help myself to a cup of coffee and a few cookies or donuts – they’re all free – and thus fortified, head out again to seek even more books.
Once I stumbled across a novel written by one of my husband’s law school buddies – The Locklear Letters, by Michael Kun – and I sat down at an old patio set put outside for customers and skimmed the first page. When I looked up, blinking, I noticed the sun was a little lower in the sky. I’d read the entire book in one great big gulp, without anyone bothering me or suggesting I vacate my chair. The Book Barn actively encourages lingering. Pet a cat or two, shoot a few baskets into the hoop that’s located roughly in the middle of the grounds, toss a tennis ball for the indefatigable black-and-white dog Zoey, grab another handful of Oreos – there’s no need to rush.
By the time I’m ready to leave (“ready” probably isn’t the right word – Romeo and Juliet had an easier time parting than me and The Book Barn) my bag is stuffed full – sustenance for weeks and weeks ahead. But there’s a little trick that always prevents me from going directly to my car after I’ve paid. To get to the parking lot, you have to pass a spot called “Ellis Island” – the entry point for incoming books. During the busiest days, a thousand books come into The Book Barn. I always stop at Ellis Island on the way out and browse a while to make the newcomers feel welcome. Usually I end up finding another book or eight that I have to have. I race back up the stairs to the cashier (thus working up an hearty appetite for more Oreos) and add the books to my bag. Then I head for the parking lot again. More often than not, I’ll see there is a fresh stack of books at Ellis Island that stare at me with big sad eyes, begging to be perused – and I start the cycle all over again. In fact, some people reportedly never even make it past Ellis Island when they first enter The Book Barn. It’s why I save it for last.
In a few more months, I’ll get to visit The Book Barn again. I’m counting every single day.