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Posts Tagged ‘support Independent bookstores’

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Lincoln’s Birthday, Indie bookstore window photographed with Canon Powershot & edited with PhotoShop Elements, Wayzata, Minnesota, February 16th, 2009, photo © 2009-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


A few years ago, Liz and I went to see Ronald C. White, Jr. at the Bookcase of Wayzata, an independent bookstore on Lake Minnetonka. He was there to discuss his new book, A. Lincoln: A Biography. I had heard him interviewed earlier in the morning on MPR; Liz and I decided to be spontaneous and go hear him speak. The little Indie bookstore was packed.

White talked about how Lincoln loved words. And because of that, his words were like poetry. White wrote his book for those who might be reading a Lincoln biography for the first time, or to introduce Lincoln to a younger generation. He also spoke about how Obama started to shine a light on Lincoln, and how he (White) was booked for speaking engagements in Mississippi and Alabama, and also in Europe where many think Abe Lincoln personifies the American Dream.

More than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln. Yet not all of his story has been told. At the end of the Civil War, between March and April 1865, Lincoln went to Northern Virginia to meet with his generals. He shook hands with thousands of Union soldiers and visited the former Confederate capital in Richmond, Virginia. But little is known about the last week of his life before his assassination on April 14, 1865.

Historian Noah Andre Trudeau thinks that in their rush to get to Ford’s Theater, historians have overlooked this important part of Lincoln’s life. After the Civil War, the President of the United States met Generals Grant and Sherman in Virginia to talk about the surrender of the South and its impact on our country. Lincoln visited Richmond, then considered enemy territory, as an observer. He was looking for ways a torn nation could begin to heal.

Having spent my childhood in the South, and most of my adult years in the North, I am compelled to follow literature about the Civil War. One of my ancestors was a courier for Robert E. Lee. When we moved to the North, one of the first places we visited was the Gettysburg battlefield. I am fascinated by the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan who took this photo, one half of a stereo view of Alfred R. Waud, artist of Harper’s Weekly, while he sketched on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in July of 1863. (See links below for the rest of the Atlantic series on photographs of the Civil War.)

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Trudeau is known for uncovering its secrets. His previous books, Bloody Roads South and Gettysburg, have unveiled information about General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, and the legacy of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Now, in preparation for the book about a largely unexamined period of President Abraham Lincoln’s life, Trudeau is in search of witnesses.

He is seeking diary entries, letters or stories of people who encountered Lincoln at the time. During the NPR story, I was surprised to hear several people call in with leads to family scrapbooks and letters relating to Lincoln. (To share information, contact him at lincoln65@earthlink.net.) About his quest for truth, Trudeau states: “My one nightmare is that I’m going to do a very good job of discrediting all the good stories.” I think it’s quite the contrary. The more stories revealed, the closer we are to weaving together the textured layers of the past, and unraveling the sometimes painful chapters in American history.


Resources:

Historian Seeks Artifacts From Lincoln’s Last Days : NPR Talk Of The Nation (LINK)

A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. at his Official Website (LINK)

Abraham Lincoln and Slavery | Minnesota Public Radio News (LINK) – historian Eric Foner examines Abraham Lincoln’s complex ideas about slavery and African Americans, casting fresh light on an American icon.

The Civil War, Part 1: The Places, the Atlantic – February 8th, 2012 (LINK) – First installment of amazing b&w photographs of important places in the Civil War. (Some images in the three Series are graphic.)

The Civil War, Part 2: The People, the Atlantic – February 9th, 2012 (LINK) – Second installment of b&w photographs of the Civil War. Includes a photo portrait of Abraham Lincoln taken by photographer Alexander Gardner on February 5, 1865.

Traditionally called “last photograph of Lincoln from life”, this final photo in Lincoln’s last photo session was long thought to have been made on April 10, 1865, but more recent research has indicated the earlier date in February. The crack comes from the original negative, which was broken and discarded back in 1865. The entirety of the American Civil War took place while Lincoln was in office, starting a month after he was elected, and ending just days before his assassination in April of 1865.

The Civil War, Part 3: The Stereographs, the Atlantic – February 10th, 2012 (LINK) – Third installment of the Stereographs of the Civil War with the work of photographer Timothy H. O’Sullivan


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, February 12th, 2012, birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Related to posts: Abraham Lincoln & Nikki Giovanni (On Poets & Presidents), Presidential Poetics — Elizabeth Alexander, President Barack Obama, Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?

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The Master Butcher (Revisited) - 255/365

The Master Butcher (Louis Erdrich) – 255/365, BlackBerry 365, Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


To celebrate the World Premiere stage adaptation of The Master Butchers Singing Club at the Guthrie, Liz and I have started reading the novel aloud to each other. I savor each moment. This will be second time I have followed Fidelis from Germany with his pristine set of knives and suitcase full of sausages, walked the streets of Argus, North Dakota with Delphine and Cyprian, and sat at the clean and ordered table of Eva Waldvogel.

The first time was at least five years ago when my relationship with Liz was just getting started. We quickly discovered that we both loved art, music, writers, and books — lots of books. Liz grew up in North Dakota and Louise Erdrich was one of her favorite authors (she had gone to see her speak in the 80’s at Moorhead State). To help win me over, and in a courtship ritual I didn’t find the least bit bizarre, she checked out two library copies of The Master Butchers Singing Club on CD, handed one to me and said, “I thought we could listen to them separately in our cars and compare notes. What do you think?”

Seven years and some odd months later….we learned that Master Butchers was coming to the Guthrie and vowed to pick up tickets. A few weeks ago when we attended The Scottsboro Boys, we stopped by the ticket window and sealed the deal. Then Birchbark Books (the independent bookstore owned by Louise) announced on Facebook that it had a few signed, First Edition copies of The Masters Butchers Singing Club for sale. I returned home that evening to find the book gleaming off the coffee table. And there on the cover, in a photograph taken June 8th, 1912, in Pforzheim, Germany, was the Master Butcher himself, Louise’s grandfather, Louis Erdrich.


Can you imagine having your novel adapted for the stage in such a prestigious venue as the Guthrie Theater? If the Guthrie’s photograph of Louise and her daughter on set before the preview opening on September 11th is any indication, it is a feeling of elation and pure joy.

We’ll be attending the play in October (with several friends) and will come back and check in later this Fall. According to Minnesota Monthly, director Francesca Zambello didn’t know Louise when she frequented Kenwood Café and picked up a copy of Master Butchers at Birchbark next store. But over time, “With Erdrich’s blessing (and advice), Zambello and Pulitzer-winning playwright Marsha Norman began condensing the sprawling family saga, set in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota, between the world wars. There’s more singing and less butchering now. And that’s fine with Erdrich…”

In my humble opinion, The Master Butchers Singing Club is one of her finest. I can only imagine that Louise’s grandfather would agree. It is a book about the importance of place and culture, a universal story. There is a way that Louise’s books honor those who came before her, generations of ancestry in perfect imperfection. As above, so below. So may it be.


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The Erdrich Sisters, Heid, Lise, Louise, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Additional Resources:

MPR Midmorning: From the page to the stage – The Master Butchers Singing Club. Kerri Miller’s interview this morning with Louise Erdrich and Francesca Zambello.

Minnesota Monthly Profiles Author Louise Erdrich, September 2010 – Staging Erdrich by Michael Tortorello including 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Louise.

Play Guide, Interviews, and Ticket Info on The Master Butchers Singing Club at the Guthrie Theater.

Louise’s bookstore, Birchbark Books where you can get your own First edition, first printing, hardcover of The Master Butchers Singing Club signed by Louise Erdrich, or the newly re-issued Fishing for Myth from Heid Erdrich.

Bill Moyers interview with Louise Erdrich on Bill Moyers Journal, April 9th, 2010

Louise Erdrich on Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates Jr.


-related to posts: The Company Of Strangers (On Louise Erdrich & Flying), Book Talk — Do You Let Yourself Read?


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RUNES, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Yesterday we went to a book signing at Common Good Books. Jeff Hertzberg and Zöe Francois recently released their second book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The bread was delicious, the authors serious about their work, down-to-earth, engaging and fun. In casual conversation, it came out that Zöe knows Latin. I remembered that I had taken two years of Latin in junior high, a curriculum requirement in the 1960’s. That got me to thinking about language and alphabets.

After the signing, Liz and I did a little Christmas shopping and later went to the studio. I was looking at this set of Runes I made from clay a number of years ago. For a period of time in my life, I consulted with different oracles on a daily basis: the I Ching, the Runes, Tarot, Medicine Cards. I have a passion for learning about symbols in different systems of mysticism.

Symbols are used to create structure within a system, to help us understand complicated ideas with a simple visual. Over time, color has been organized into systems like Goethe’s Triangle and subsequent Colour Wheel, while chakras are symbolized by certain colors. Logos and brands (like red Ravine or ybonesy’s new logo) take their lead from symbols of yore. Graphic designers are always trying to create  innovative new fonts with which to drape old symbols in more imaginative cloaks. (Yet people still like an old standby because Helvetica remains one of the most widely used fonts around.)

I couldn’t find my Runes book last night or I would have drawn the Runes. But I did find an odd book I’d snapped up at a sale, an old Readers Digest Book of Facts. According to the Languages section of the book, all the alphabets around the world can be traced to a North Semitic alphabet that emerged around 1700 B.C. at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. From the Semitic alphabet developed Hebrew, Arabic, and Phoenician. Then Phoenician alphabet was adopted and adapted by the Greeks who in 1000 B.C. introduced a modified form into Europe.

The Greeks standardized the reading of written lines from left to right, added symbols for vowels, and gave rise to the Roman alphabet (used for modern Western languages) and the Cyrillic alphabet (named after Saint Cyril and used in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union). The North Semitic alphabet spawned the Aramaic alphabet which eventually developed into Asian alphabets, such as Hindi.

The earliest forms of writing are picture writings found on clay tablets in parts of the Middle East and southeastern Europe. Some of the oldest found in Iraq and Iran recorded land sales and business deals.

Where do the Runes fit into all this? They are a mystery. The Runic alphabet is one of the oldest in northern Europe with early examples dating to the 3rd century A.D. They have been found in 4000 inscriptions in Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland but nobody knows for sure where they originated.

For some reason, the Runes remind me of the ancient celebration of Winter Solstice. Some scholars believe the Runes were derived from the Etruscan alphabet of southern Europe and brought north by the Goths after their invasion of the Roman Empire. To me, they are an oracle of mystery. And that’s what draws me to them.


Post Script: The bread baked by Jeff Hertzberg and Zöe Francois was delicious. Their new book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day looks like a winner with many whole wheat and gluten-free recipes. There’s a recipe for their whole wheat Christmas Stollen Bread in the post of their video interview at KARE 11. Or you can visit their website Artisan Bread In Five with fabulous photographs of mouthwatering baked goods. You will come away hungry for more!


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, December 13th, 2009

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Heart to Hands, Natalie Goldberg at Bookworks in Albuquerque, photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved. (QuoinMonkey started the Writers’ Hands series; this photo is in that fashion yet not of the series. Deep bow to QM for the inspiration.)

 

 

It’s been almost a month since I went to Bookworks on Rio Grande Boulevard in Albuquerque’s Rio Grande valley to hear Natalie Goldberg read from her new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir.

Bookworks is a small bookstore, one of the few independents left in the city. Every nook is packed with something — books, journals, cards, stationery. It’s the kind of bookstore that makes you feel like you’ve walked into the living room of an eccentric old bibliophile.

It was amazing they fit in as many chairs as they did — four rows, about ten chairs in a row. Which means, 40 of us were sitting — the ones lucky enough or smart enough to get there early. I snagged the last chair, tucked against a bookshelf. I didn’t see it until I’d been standing for ten minutes. I was relieved to sit.

Every other open space in the bookstore was then filled with mostly women, mostly my age or older, standing. They were like water flooding the store. They lined the aisles, one person standing behind another standing behind another. It was vaguely reminiscent of the midnight sale of book seven in the Harry Potter series, except on a smaller scale.

A woman I knew, a recent transplant from Denver, sat two chairs over from me. We leaned in to chat about how excited we were to see Natalie. The woman motioned with her chin around the room. “I can’t believe we didn’t have to stand in the line to get in. If this were in Denver, they’d have to sell tickets, and there’d be a line just to buy the tickets.” She was right. Albuquerque is still a town masquerading as a city.

Natalie arrived late. She was calm; she’s always calm. She tried sitting in the wingback chair they had set up for her in the front of the store, but when she did, she could only see the people in the first row. Instead she pushed aside a display of small bunnies — Easter paraphernalia — and climbed atop a platform normally used for merchandise.

“Ah, that’s better,” she smiled as she looked around the room.

 

It’s hard this many weeks later to summarize what Natalie said. From my notes, I offer these few gems:

  • Of the recent memoir debacle, where a young memoirist was busted for falsely portraying herself as a half Native American, half-white foster child involved with gangs in South-Central LA, Natalie said that this fabrication and others like it are an indication of how much energy there is around memoir.
  • She said people who want to write memoir sometimes think they need to span their entire lives. Writing memoir isn’t about writing your life — birth to however old you are now. It can be writing about a portion of your life: My life with men. My life with chocolate.
  • Old Friend from Far Away is, according to Natalie, the closest experience you’ll have to being in the classroom with her. Having read several chapters in the book and having spent many weeks in her workshops, I can vouch — it’s as if I’m there all over again.
  • She said the book is structured the way it is for a reason: so readers won’t freeze on any one chapter in the book. No hanging a section like you would a poem on your refrigerator. She wants us to read the whole book; “It was made with the whole mind.”

 

       

 

Natalie read three or so chapters from the book. In one titled “One Thing” (p.247) I recognized immediately a fellow student of Natalie’s who participated in the same year-long intensive that QuoinMonkey and I attended. “Just Sitting — Or Doing the Neola” (p. 82) was inspired by another student. I smile now thinking how much the essence of her students is captured in this book.

 

               Thank you
               Sky and tree
               Big and small
               Green and red

               The taste of chocolate
               Bread and pinto beans

               This land and other lands

               Past and future
               Human, dog and zebra

               Everything you know–
               And the things you don’t

               Hunger, zest, repetition
               Homesickness,
               Welcome.

               This is for all my students

                          ( ~ the dedication in Old Friend from Far Away)

 

Of the chapters she read, my favorite was “Fulfilled” (p. 275). Many of us were in tears. The chapter is for us, every one of us who’s ever wanted to write. It’s long for an excerpt, and much as I’ve tried to shorten it, here it is almost in its entirety:

 

The author Willa Cather believed that if you had a wish for something from a young age–for example, being an opera singer–and you continually made effort at it, you would live a fulfilled life. It didn’t matter if you were on stage at the Metropolitan; maybe you sang in a local theater; perhaps you took lessons and belted it out in the shower and at family gatherings. That was good enough. The important thing was to stay connected with your dream and that effort would result in a basic happiness.
       Cather said that those who gave up carried something painful, cut off inside, and that their lives had a sense of incompleteness.
       …
       …
       Don’t let the light go out. Get to work, even if the going is slow and you have six mouths to feed and two jobs.
       A few years ago I was invited to meet with the creative writing students in a graduate program at a big midwestern university. When I asked what their plans were, eight out of the ten, turning up their empty palms, said, well, the most we can hope for is a job at a community college. We know it’s hard out there in the book world.
       I was quiet and looked down. In their heart of hearts I wanted them to be thinking: Tolstoy, Garcia Lorca, Jane Austen, Proust, Alice Walker, Naguib Mahfouz, Virginia Woolf, Chinua Achebe. They seemed beaten-down, too practical, too rational at such young ages. All of them should have been hungry to step up to the plate and smack the ball home. What happened?
       Great writers do not write so that their readers will feel defeated. They wait for us to blow on the embers and keep the heat going. It is our responsibility. When we understand this, we grow up. We become a woman. We become a man.
       No institution can give you this authority; though you may learn many wonderful things there. Like a little bird, you must open your small beak and feed yourself one drop of rosewater at a time, then a kernel of corn, a single sesame seed, even a tiny pebble. Keep nourishing yourself on great writers. You will grow from the inside out and stand up on the page.
       No protest, no whining. Right now take a nibble of bread. Make a bit of effort. It does not have to be enormous. Just go in the right direction and the trees, insects, clouds, bricks of buildings will make a minute turning with you and salute you.

 

After Natalie signed my book and I snapped shots of her signing it and the person’s behind me, I said goodbye, tucked my camera into my pocket, and turned to leave. Natalie called out to me: “Send everyone my love on the blog.”

 

 

-related to posts, Natalie Goldberg — Old Friend From Far Away (Two Good Reasons to Buy Independent), Natalie Goldberg — 2000 Years Of Watching The Mind, Beginner’s Mind, More About The Monkey

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Old Friend From Far Away, Minneapolis, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Old Friend From Far Away, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



I bought Natalie Goldberg’s new book, Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Actually, Liz bought it for me, the creative version of romance – a writer’s gift. We visited Common Good Books, an Independent bookstore in Saint Paul, between touring the Minnesota State Capitol (by day), and attending a Victorian Poetry Slam at the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue (by night).

It was the first time I had been to Common Good Books, owned by one of Minnesota’s native sons (and the host of A Prairie Home Companion), Garrison Keillor. I went at the urging of a friend. I slid Natalie’s book off the shelf in excited anticipation. It was the last one they had in stock.

The book feels good in the hands. The paper is soft and textured, the front cover is inviting, and I can’t wait to dive in. I took some time off this weekend. Rested. Today begins a new week. Sometimes I need a little inspiration. I pick up a book.


      Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Natalie talked about writing Old Friend from Far Away in the Writing Intensive in Taos last year. Sometimes she would show us the manuscript with the cross-outs and revisions. Other times she would read partially completed chapters to us. Twice, I saw her write new lines into a paragraph while she was sitting there. She said she was inspired by her students; the book is dedicated to them.

Studying with an author while they are actually writing a book is a rare gift. I learned so much from her sharing the process (both successes and mistakes). The next best thing is hearing the writer read her work. If you want to see Natalie read from her new book, maybe you can catch her on tour from February through April of this year.

If you are looking to learn more about Writing Practice and memories, pick up a copy for yourself. Spending the money to buy a writer’s book shows your support for the writer. You might also want to consider doing your shopping in an Independent bookstore near you. Yeah, it takes more effort than ordering online. And is sometimes more expensive. But it’s worth it.



Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. Live Local, Read Large, St Paul, Minnesota,February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Here are a couple of reasons why:



ONE:

When I hit sunlight on the sidewalk, I felt that I had just been in another world, a place full and close to me. After that day, Centicore was mine. I lived in it.

Since then I have sought out bookstores in every town and city I pass through, the way someone else might search for old battle sites, gourmet food or sports bars. I consider the people working in bookstores my friends. If I’m lost, need a good restaurant or a cheap place to stay, I go to a bookstore, confident someone there will direct me.

If a town has no bookstore, I feel sad for the place. It doesn’t have that concentrated wealth of minds that includes twelfth-century Japan, a painter in Tahiti, traditional North American Indian pottery, memories of war, a touch of Paris and the Mississippi, a lament on love’s transiency and instruction on how to cook a good chicken stew. You can live in a small hamlet on the Nebraska plains and if there’s a bookstore, it’s like the great sun caught in one raisin or in the juicy flesh of a single peach.

A bookstore captures worlds — above, behind, below, under, forward, back. From that one spot the townspeople can radiate out beyond physical limit. A hammer and nails in the hardware store down the block, though fine and useful tools, can’t quite do the same job. Even an ice cream parlor — a definite advantage — does not alleviate the sorrow I feel for a town lacking a bookstore.


-Natalie Goldberg, from Thunder and Lightning; Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft, chapter excerpt, Smack! Into the Moment

TWO:

What Happened To Orr Books?  Bookstores across the country are closing every month. Buy Independent!


I know it’s not always possible to shop at an Independent bookstore. I confess, I buy my share of books online. Particularly if I am rushed for time, or am looking for obscure or out-of-print books. Many times, smaller bookstores don’t have the room to keep older books in stock.

And I found when I worked at a large bookstore chain, they, too, would often have to order older books online. In that case, I cut out the middle man and buy direct. But when I do shop online, I try to visit sites like Alibris: New, Used, Rare and Out-of-Print Books. Alibris supports Independent bookstores by uniting book sellers from all over the globe, and giving you the online alternative of patronizing an Independent.

However you shop, I hope you’ll get out to support Natalie on tour and purchase her new book, Old Friend from Far Away. And please come back and share any insights you’ve gained from reading about the practice of writing memoir. We’d love to hear them.



THREE:

Make that three good reasons!


Common Good Books, St Paul, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Common Good Books, Saint Paul, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



Common Good Books
165 Western Avenue North
(downstairs in the Blair Building, beside Nina’s Coffee Cafe on Selby)
St Paul, Minnesota 55102

Store Hours:
Monday through Saturday – 10am to 10pm
Sunday – 10am to 8pm

Contact:
Phone: 651-225-8989
CommonGoodBooks.com



Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Old Friend, Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



-posted on red Ravine, Monday, February 18th, 2008

-related to post, Natalie Goldberg — 2000 Years Of Watching The Mind, Beginner’s Mind, More About The Monkey

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Ranked by local Twin Citians as 15th on a list of top independent bookstores in Minneapolis, Orr Books was one of my favorite independents. For almost 40 years, the tiny, quiet store resided in the largely urban Uptown section of Lake Street. The parking was terrible, but the staff was knowledgeable and friendly. And I could find off-the-wall, eclectic books for a lazy Saturday of soul searching.

I spent many days there, in the comfy armchair by the counter, hanging out with great literature.

I had given up believing that Orr Books would ever close its doors. They had been threatening for years. Usually it was some new real estate deal happening in the trendy Uptown area that was raising the rent, pushing them out.

Each time I got wind of a closing, I’d stop in and ask the owner, Charlie Orr, if they were going to make it through. And each time he’d tell me, “Well, we don’t know. We’re going to try to stay open as long as we can.”  He just kept on going.

But in July, while I was in Taos at a writing retreat, one of the longest running Twin Cities Independent bookstores closed its doors for the last time. The day after I returned, Liz slipped a paperback book in my hand over morning coffee and said, “I got this for you. It’s the last book I bought from Orr books.”

“What?” I said, gently sliding the cover through my fingers. “They’ve really closed?”

Orr Books has sentimental value to me. When I felt alone, lonely, entrenched in one of my isolated, weekend jags of lining books up on my bed and reading, reading, reading, Orr Books was there. I would browse their shelves, spend hours grazing covers, and talk to the staff about poetry, writing, and authors.

I rarely left the store with less than $100 worth of books. Then I would head over to the Lotus next store, grab some beef lo mein and an order of spring rolls, stack my treasure tomes up on the table, and dive in.


That was then – before I admitted to myself (much less the rest of the world) that I was a writer.  Before traveling to Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos for writing retreats. Before I went to see Natalie Goldberg read from Thunder and Lightning at, you guessed it, Orr Books.

It was the year 2001, and I convinced my friend, Gail, to go with me. I sat on a hard bench, back by the bodywork books, craning my neck to get a glimpse of Natalie. The store was packed.

I bought Thunder and Lightning that night. Natalie signed my copy of Writing Down the Bones (sneaking a quick peek inside the cover to see what edition I had) and mentioned that she was giving workshops in St. Paul. When I left the store, I had an extra bounce in my step. I told Gail I was going to sign up. 

Many blue moons and 10 or 11 retreats later, my writing is going strong. But Orr Books is no more.

The closing of many independent bookstores across the country marks the end of an era. I’ve often heard Natalie say she knows a town is thriving if they have at least one independent bookstore.

It begs the question, are people even paying attention to the number of independent bookstores that remain standing in their hometowns? What are we as writers doing to breathe new life back into flagging stores. And are communities willing to spend the extra time and money to support them.

Below is the final letter distributed by Charlie and his staff at the closing, a history of the people and the store. Liz handed the crisp, white paper to me along with the last book she purchased from Orr Books – a copy of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows.

Every time I pick up Ted’s book, I will think of Orr Books. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate its memory.



The History of Orr Books
       -details provided by Charlie Orr

The facts go something like this:

Vera opened Uptown Bookstore (2908 Hennepin) during the Art Fair in August 1968. As she couldn’t afford to leave her job as the textbook buyer at the U of M, Charlie quit his job as a cabdriver, and worked for the first 6 months, then left for California with friends. Interesting fact: before hacking a taxi, Charlie had served in the U.S. Army as a Russian linguist.

Business was good for Vera, and in 1971 she opened a 2nd store, called Uptown Bookstore 2 (Roman numeral), where she sold new hard covers, while continuing to sell paperbacks at the original shop. When times got tough, she decided to close Uptown Bookstore 2. Vera called Charlie in California, in early 1973, to tell him this news.

Meanwhile, Charlie had been hustling used books to no great avail out west. He told Vera he would return, and take over the 2nd store, renaming it Orr Books. It was located at 3027 Hennepin Ave. before Calhoun Square was a twinkle in Ray Harris’ eye. Charlie’s partner in the new bookstore venture was Zarifah, a Sufi dance leader. They sold only used and collectible books, while Vera continued to sell new hard and soft cover books down the street.

In 1976, Vera gave up Uptown Bookstore, and went to work with Zarifah and Charlie, bringing along her faithful book buyers. Vera, in her day, had her own large and devoted following. Zarifah soon left to pursue other interests, and in 1977 Julia Wong was hired to assist Vera and Charlie.

In 1981, Calhoun Square opened, and Orr Books moved to its present location at 3043 Hennepin. During Julia’s 20-year career, Charlie hired various people you may remember: Wendy Knox, Helen Antrobus, Mary DuShane, Lynn Miller, Steve Thomes, and who knows else. Ben Orr came on board after high school. David started on his birthday in 1986. Liza started in 1994, and Peggy and Lorna have been the last part-timers.

The most profitable years were during the sale of textbooks for St. Mary’s Graduate School. The most interesting years were the fist 3-5, when, to survive, Charlie became a comic book dealer, a Beatles dealer, and most successfully, a baseball card dealer, even running auctions after hours to avid collectors.

It is with great regret that Charlie has decided to finalize Orr Books. Times change, as do we all. Charlie (and David and Peggy) now face, like you, the inevitable question: where will we now go to find the good books that nourish and please? It’s been a wonderful 34 years (39, including Uptown Bookstore) and they will always be fondly recalled.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 7th, 2007

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