Monday, May 11, 2015

spoken in the shop, vol. 22.

On books as temptation
Customer, with large stack of books in hand: "Someone ought to lock me up!"
Me: "You know, there are worse vices to have."
Customer: "True. The problem is, I'm going to drink at least a glass of wine with each of these."


On a chocolate's worth
Customer, after eating one of our shop's truffles: "You know, when you said three dollars, I thought, 'How can y'all screw people like that?' But then I tasted it, and I understand."


On "you are what you read"
Customer: "I'm reading this book you recommended, and all of the short stories are about infidelity. You're not thinking of pulling the plug, are you?"


On Mother's Day gift-giving
Manager: "Are we getting a gift card today?" 
Dad: "Yes, we are making no decision." 
Son: "This is a decision." 
Dad: "No, a gift card is not a decision." 
 Son: "Yes, it is. I could have chosen a Target gift card or a Wal-Mart gift card or a Bookshelf gift card, and I chose The Bookshelf. It was a decision."


On sneezing etiquette
"I must be allergic to something in here. I've gotta quit trying to stifle it; sounds like it's coming out the other end!"


On one-stop shopping
"Oh my gosh, you have chocolate, too?  You're complete!"


On fashion
Teenage girl to employee: "Oh, I love your necklace!"
Employee: "Well, thank you!"
Girl, mournfully: "You have such great style."
Employee: "Oh, thank you so much, but you do, too! I love your dress."
Girl: "Oh, my mom made me wear this."


On destruction of property
Customer: "What's wrong with your chairs?"
Me: "Oh, I think sadly someone's begun peeling the leather off." 
Customer: "Well, they look like they've been mutilated."


On the perfect present
"Cookbooks are the gift that gives back to you. Now my mom can make me something."


On mission-making
Young girl: "Excuse me; where is your children's section?"
Me: "Oh, let me show you. It's this whole back part of the store, first picture books, then middle reader books, where your kind of books are."
Girl, wide-eyed, pauses, then claps hands twice. "Let's do this."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

15/52 :: a brief lesson in caring.

The world is hard, isn't it? Between Nepal and Baltimore, we all have quite a bit to grieve. Add to the mix our own personal tragedies and hurts, and the burden becomes almost too much to bear. 

A few years ago, I wrote about grief, about living with it after my grandmother's death. I wrote about friends of ours who showed up in all kinds of loving ways: with groceries and cards and flowers and books. I'll never forget it. Those small acts of kindness are reminders it doesn't take much to show we care. And in the past week, I've had a chance to exercise those muscles, to show up for people who maybe weren't even expecting me to. 

Unfortunately -- and perhaps this is a consequence of being raised in the South -- I think we can often feel pressured to not just show up for those we love, but to show up in the right ways. Too often, I think we let that pressure prevent us from being present at all. We never mail the card because we don't know what to say; we don't take dinner, because we're not sure what to cook. 

Here, then, is my rule for grieving alongside someone: Just do it. In whatever ways you know how, no matter how awkward it might seem. And at 29, I have finally discovered the best ways for me to show I care, and I figured maybe you, too, struggle with showing up. Maybe you're not sure where to start. 

Here, then, is what works for me: 

If someone I love is grieving or celebrating, and they live within an hour's radius, I take them dinner. I don't send a text asking to cook dinner; I just say I am bringing it. Most people won't accept if you ask, so I just tell them I'm dropping it off. 

I rarely cook dinner myself. Let's not complicate things. Instead, I go to Publix. I grab one of their cute reusable grocery bags and add a rotisserie chicken, already done. I buy a hot-and-ready side, most frequently macaroni and cheese, because macaroni and cheese equals comfort. I grab a bagged salad mix, one that comes with its own dressing, plus a bottle of Simply Lemonade, which is my favorite. I add a magazine or a cheap movie and a dessert; a small bouquet of flowers rests on top. 

The beauty of this method is two-fold: It's simple, requiring very little preparation, and it requests nothing back. No one needs to return your dishes, because you didn't use any. You don't need the grocery bag back because it cost 99 cents and now belongs to someone else. The magazine and the flowers will offer distraction or happiness, maybe both. It took 10 minutes to compile. 

Sometimes, I deliver the food and visit. Mostly, I just drop it off. One bag. That's it. 

Many years ago, my friend Kari shared on her blog a phrase she'd picked up from the Quakers: "I'm holding you in the light." Ever since, those are the words I've penned in sympathy and encouragement cards over and over again, almost universally, no matter the circumstance. I can think of nothing more comforting.

That little bag of food -- for loved ones near -- and a text or phone call or card -- for loved ones far --  are the ways I hold the people I love near the light. It's how I remind them they're cared for and remembered, even in moments of darkness. 

I never want to let the fear of being perfect prevent me from being present. Grief is hard enough without bringing our own insecurities and hang-ups into the mix. 

Publix rotisserie chicken is what I have to give, and you know what? I think it's enough.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

14/52 :: indie bookstore day.

I posted the above picture to Instagram after we finally arrived home from the bookstore on Saturday night. It received, at last count, 81 "likes" and a half dozen kind comments -- one of my more popular Instagram posts, by far. That's pretty cool, and if you've been reading this blog for any significant period of time, you know how long it's taken to get to this place; you know what a winding road Jordan and I took to entrepreneurship and all it entails. The picture, then, is a nice happy ending (or beginning) to that story.

But in the essence of full disclosure, this weekend -- the first-ever nationally-recognized Independent Bookstore Day -- wasn't all sunshine and balloons. In fact, the week leading up to Saturday was one of the more stressful in my brief entrepreneurial career. One of my two employees had a family emergency, and the other is in school part-time; their absences left me alone in the shop for much of the week, with bills to pay, social media to run, and loose event ends to tie up -- a stark reminder that maybe, just maybe, I'm in a little over my head. My mom came to my rescue on Tuesday, helping to put up new displays and greet customers, but otherwise, I felt a little like a one woman show. And despite some incredibly stellar sales days and my penchant for independence, it was not fun. Juggling all the balls alone never is.

Friday night, Jordan and I cut our date night short to create a dozen literary-inspired wine labels and to prep the store for the big day. It's always fun to be in the store together, and as Jordan put away drinks and I drew on chalkboards, he reminded me what joy I get from preparation, how the day before a party has always been my favorite. (I would, to my chagrin, much rather prep a party than attend one.) 

So much of running the bookstore is a lesson in hospitality. A few years ago, I had people in my home multiple times a week. I hosted countless parties. We celebrated milestone upon milestone with pancakes and potlucks and board games. It was, as Jordan frequently puts it, "the year of the pineapple."

That doesn't happen much anymore. Instead, this month, we hosted a dozen events at the store. We were open late several evenings, greeting authors and new-to-us customers. I pushed my small staff to their limits, and I've been reminded, over and over again, that hospitality isn't just about opening my home. It's about the atmosphere I create at the store.

So this weekend, we had a party. And it wasn't at our home, and it wasn't with our friends. We celebrated at the store, surrounded by strangers. Everyone was happy. We served coffee and cupcakes and wine. There were prizes and balloons and matching t-shirts. All in all, I suppose it was as wonderful as the Instagram picture suggests. But all the filters in the world don't change how stressful this job can be, how hard it is day in and day out to run a business and a life.

Next week, fingers crossed, I'm headed to the beach for a few days. I need it. I love running the store, and I love selling books, but even those of us living out our dreams need a vacation every now and then. It's been a crazy few weeks, and Indie Bookstore Day was a nice reminder that if push comes to shove, I can try to do it all, perhaps even successfully -- but that doesn't mean I should.

And a side note, to those of you who visited your locally-owned, independent bookstores on Saturday: Thank you. This past Saturday was a success not because of all the preparation and legwork we did, but because of people like you who chose to show up. Indie Bookstore Day was important for me as an entrepreneur because it showed me I'm not in this alone, and the work I do, while perhaps never reviewed in a staff meeting or recognized with a pay increase, is important and appreciated by the people who choose to shop there. You made Indie Bookstore Day a pleasure, and that smiling face in the picture up there? It's there because of you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, May 4, 2015

reading recap: april 2015.

April became one of the busiest months at The Bookshelf – so many events, so little time. I did manage to fit in eight books this month, six fiction (including one boasting over 700 pages!) and two non-fiction. A couple would make great book club picks, some you’ve probably heard about already, and at least one deserves to be picked up today. 
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Bookseller confession: I never read The Goldfinch. So many customers felt ambivalent about last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner; I decided to forgo it for another book by the same author (The Secret History, which I really enjoyed). The page count of The Goldfinch also made it daunting, which is why my first book selection for this month comes as a surprise, even to me. A Little Life is just over 700 pages long, but it kept coming across my social media wanderings – NPR reviews, blog posts, podcasts, etc. – so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did. The book covers the friendships of four men, following them from their late college years into their mid-40s. And although the book is a testament to male friendship, it’s also about heartbreak and trauma and tragedy and abuse and neglect. A Little Life is heavy, but important, and if you’ve got the stomach for it, I can’t recommend it enough. Grab me in the store next time you see me, and I’ll tell you if it’s right for you. 

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith. I can’t believe I had never heard of The Austen Project, so allow me to enlighten you, as well. The new series of six novels pairs bestselling authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey were released last year, and now, bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith has thrown his hat into the ring with his modern-day version of Emma. I’m not exactly an Austen purist – I won’t touch anything that combines Austen with zombies, but I have watched (and loved) both The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved – so this rendition didn’t bother me in the least. I found it utterly enjoyable, and I would imagine most of you would, too. Emma has never been my favorite heroine, but Smith handles her with grace and does her justice. Pack it in your beach bag. 

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. Those of you who travel in evangelical circles or stay up-to-date on Christian writers and debates will probably have heard of Rachel Held Evans. I’ve been reading her blog for years, and I think Searching for Sunday is her best book thus far. The book offers a personal look at Evans’ struggles with church and faith, but her stories have universal appeal. (I found much of myself in the pages of Searching for Sunday.) I devoured the book one afternoon on my porch swing; it felt so good to hear someone give voice to my own concerns. The book is smartly divided into chapters based on the sacraments, and my favorite truths were found in the chapter reflecting on baptism. 

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. This was my advanced reader copy of the month, so you won’t find A Window Opens on our store shelves yet. However, if you’re like me, and keep a list of what to read next, go ahead and write this one down. The book is a debut novel by magazine writer Elizabeth Egan. The book is light in parts, but it's heartfelt and funny, too; rarely have I found a book that makes me laugh, cry, and cringe all within the same few pages. It's Big Little Lies meets Where’d You Go Bernadette, with a little of Dave Eggers' The Circle thrown in the mix. If any or all of those books appealed to you, this one will be worth reading. The book releases in August, and I’ll be recommending fellow readers and book clubs to close out their summers with this one. (I already mailed my copy out to a friend.) 

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. Do you ever discover a book you’ve been meaning to read for ages hiding on your shelf? The hardback of Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me has been on my nightstand for months – the book is now out in paperback – and for some reason, I just never could pull the trigger. I’d read Shipstead’s first novel, Seating Arrangements, when it debuted, and I enjoyed it, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t have read Astonish Me by now. I think the book’s subject matter – ballet – deterred me, but what a mistake! Astonish Me is even better than Seating Arrangements, with a clever plot that propels forward at the perfect pace. It received rave reviews when it released last year, and now I know why. This was one of my favorite books of the month. 

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight. A few years ago, I read Kimberly McCreigh’s Reconstructing Amelia in the span of a few hours. I still recommend it to readers looking for a good suspense novel. Her latest doesn’t, in my opinion, pack quite the punch of her first, but I think I may be coming off a Girl on the Train-inspired high. Like Girl on the Train, Where They Found Her is narrated by a variety of different women; the narration just isn’t as effective or as chilling as Girl on the Train, but McCreigh’s novel is still one you’ll want to move through in just a few sittings. Snag a copy at the library, or buy a copy for a suspense-loving friend. 

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. The cover on this one is fantastic, but Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is even more fascinating once you’ve begun to turn the pages. Ronson – who you’ll recognize from his previous book The Psychopath Test, plus dozens of NPR stories – covers shaming and public humiliation in the modern world; how we’ve moved from stakes and stocks to deriding and punishing people through social media. I recognized many of the subjects and was already familiar with several of their stories: Mike Daisey, Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer. These are semi-public figures whose missteps cost them their careers and livelihoods after the public called out their faults on Twitter and Facebook. Ronson brings to light what a strange, technology-driven world we’re living in, and although he isn’t always my favorite narrator, his book is utterly entertaining and interesting. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed would be great for book clubs, and I suspect you’ll start hearing more and more about it after a feature in the New York Times. Well worth a read. 

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe. Man at the Helm was the loveliest book I've read in quite some time. The book is quintessentially British, reminiscent of I Capture the Castle and The Railway Children; cleverly narrated by nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel, it tells the tale of Lizzie and her sister and brother as they cope with their parents' divorce. Left without a "man at the helm," Lizzie and her older sister try to find their mother a suitable replacement. Funny and sweet, Man at the Helm was just the book I needed to end out a stressful month. Highly, highly recommend. (For fans, I think, of The Rosie Project or Mary Poppins.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

13/52 :: same kind of different.

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other -- that man, that woman, that child is my brother or my sister."

- Mother Teresa


A few years ago, I told Jordan my idea for a book. "Wouldn't it be interesting," I said, "to spend a year going to different church denominations, highlighting what makes us all different, sure, but also -- and maybe more importantly -- discovering all of our similarities?" 

We were driving down a southern highway, and we had passed at least a dozen churches of varying types and denominations. And sure, a part of me found that -- still finds it, I guess -- disheartening. One church, one body, etc. But the other, bigger part of me wondered if it was okay, if it was just different believers, worshiping the Father, Son, and Spirit in the best ways they knew how.

Fast forward a couple of years. Since moving to Thomasville (and even including the months leading up to the move), Jordan and I have visited dozens of churches. Methodist, Presbyterian, church of Christ, Baptist, non-denominational, Catholic, and yes, Anglican. 

Now, whenever I worship and wherever I worship, I think of all the people we've met in our season of church hopping. I think of the elderly gentleman who served me communion one morning alongside his granddaughter. I think of my favorite priest at St. Peter's, the one who closes his eyes when he sings. I think of the African-American couple who sat behind us at the church of Christ where I grew up, the people who knew me by my grandmother's name better than my own. I think of the women who wore head-coverings and long skirts, the ones who took us out for barbecue. I think of the Methodist church where the praise team was in cowboy boots and jeans, playing the fiddle for "bluegrass Sunday."
There have been kind, friendly faces and quiet, stoic ones. Scripture read from half a dozen translations, prayers recited while kneeling. We've had stale crackers and grape juice, discs of bread and cheap wine. 

And here is what I believe: I've met hundreds of brothers and sisters this way. These are people who believe in the same Jesus I do. The Methodists and the Presbyterians and the Baptists and the churches of Christ (even the ones who wouldn't want to be on this list) are eerily similar; more similar, in fact, than not. Disregard the instruments and the choirs and the robes and the kneeling benches and you're left, more or less, with Christ crucified and raised. He's the point of it all.

Last Sunday, thanks to a birthday party at The Bookshelf and a canoe trip in Tallahassee, my brother and I both found ourselves back at our parents' church, the church we grew up in. (Chet said it was like sitting next to Liz Lemon in church, which is perhaps the best compliment anyone has paid me, ever.) Jordan, too, attended his parents' church of Christ in Birmingham. And you know, it wasn't too hard to go back. The people are lovely; the singing is beautiful. It was a little bit like going home, albeit knowing the whole while you don't really fit anymore. 

But the sermon -- which seemed to highlight and outline this church's beliefs and differences in doctrine -- felt odd to me, unnecessary. How silly, in a world full of complications, abuses, persecutions, and hurts, to separate ourselves from fellow Christians, from those who believe in the same radical resurrection we do. 

Aren't we supposed to stick together? Don't parents tell their children to watch out for each other at school? Don't they send brothers and sisters to stand by each other and honor each other and help each other navigate the chaos? 

Church wasn't designed to be a denominational pep rally. Sundays weren't created for us to celebrate our differences or to join forces against the church down the road. "The battle isn't against flesh and blood." So Scripture says, and thus I believe.

Do you know why, in this season, I love the Anglican church? Yes, there is kneeling and liturgy and a church calendar and short sermons and beautiful communion. But really? It's a relief each Sunday to go somewhere content with its own beliefs without negating another's, a church that teaches Jesus and proclaims Him while also praying for brothers and sisters -- Baptists, Catholics, and everything in between -- all over the world. A church that unabashedly praises His name and acknowledges itself as set apart, all while taking part in the community around it, the community that needs Him most. 

Amen to that.