Sunday, July 3, 2011

IN SEARCH OF THE RARE & WONDERFUL An Ode To The Corner Bookstore

As I travel the highways and back roads of this land I love, I seek always to be true to a promise I made to myself years ago never to be a “tourist”, but always a “pilgrim”. The distinction, it seems to me, is important: the former describes someone who travels for pleasure (nothing wrong with that), while the latter defines one who embarks on a journey of high, even sacred, purpose. My return to a much-loved corner of the Pacific Northwest recently is a case in point. While allowing – even hoping – for the purely serendipitous and unplanned discovery along the way, I had a mental list of clear objectives and destinations; questions I wished to find answers to, and places I wanted to explore in a specific way. At the heart of these aims was a need to uncover background knowledge and insight of a local nature, because in the final analysis, all history is “local”. For example, I wanted to learn everything I could about the history, culture and origins of that group of Native Americans known as the Salish people, and particularly the ways in which their folkways tied them to the unique environment in which they had lived and prospered.
            Within hours of our arrival, I was threading my way among the stacks, shelves and table tops of my favorite Cannon Beach haunt, a book store much given to local and regional books, with titles I would never run into at a Barnes & Noble or Amazon.  Not only did I find what I was looking for, but I got answers from owner/manager Valerie Ryan on a half-dozen unrelated questions I hadn’t even thought of. (And I left with an armful of new books I hadn’t planned to purchase, including a new printing of an old classic: “A River Never Sleeps” by the late, gifted Roderick Haig-Brown.)
            The next day, in the northern Oregon village of Seaside, a bookseller at Beach Books who was herself a retired librarian introduced me to the resident cat and helped me with recommendations which saved me days of unnecessary travel. There, I discovered a wonderful work of historic fiction by Don Berry with the title “Trask” which greatly illuminated the period of Northwest history I was studying. 
            Then on a damp and drizzly coastal afternoon, I found myself ensconced in the lone easy chair in “Rainy Day Books” in Tillamook with a lapful of rare and hard-to-find volumes brought to me by owner Karen Spicer who has devoted 27 years of her life to a passion for books, filling every available space and cranny of her corner readers’ emporium with every unusual, out-of-print, and one-of-a-kind tome she could unearth. Here, as another bookish and very senior cat waited to get the posh chair I was occupying back, I found myself in possession of a 1974 rare, long-out-of-print local history of the Tillamook Indians which turned out to be the capstone to my search.
            While I love all bookstores, I have come to think that many of the people I see in the most well-known among them, have stopped by for a muffin and cup of gourmet coffee, while remaining largely oblivious to the thousands of books which surround them but do no more than lend an ambiance of literacy to their espresso interlude.
            In small-town America, I find solace and encouragement in those survivors of a dying breed, the corner bookstore. They, and the patrons I meet in their humble and overflowing aisles remind me of an observation noted by (of all people) Jerry Seinfeld, who was quoted as saying “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking”.

Title Photo above: 
Small-town bookstores usually turn out to be treasure troves of local and regional history and lore, as well as a reflection of a community’s sense of itself.

Behind the humble and unassuming fa├žade of “Rainy Day Books” in Tillamook, Oregon, resides an eclectic collection of rare, out-of-print, and seldom-seen titles as well as an invitation to linger and explore.

The red easy chair at “Rainy Day Books” will be reclaimed by the resident “book kitty” if left unoccupied for more than two minutes. In fact he has just moved my book aside with unmitigated disdain.    
Photos by Al Cooper   

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