Hello new friend,
I know, that's pretty presumptuous of me, but I thought that since we are spending this holiday week together we could just cut to the chase and get to the part where we like each other. I want to thank Powell's for asking me to guest blog during this tinselly time. I just published a book called Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying (Among Other Things), and I think that's why they wanted me to blog here. Or else because I'm Jewish (so they thought I'd be relatively free this week).
Back in the '90s, I had a part-time job at a place called Mail Boxes Etc., where we packed and shipped precious items and wasted a forest's worth of bubble wrap. This time of year was always full of sprinkled cookies, extra tours with the vacuum at night, and the occasional distraught customer who needed their presents airlifted to Turkey by Christmas or else!! I had two amazing bosses who made me laugh so hard I inhaled packing peanuts, and though the paper cuts were severe, that job really gave me new appreciation for the postal service and the art of letter writing. This week, I'd like to share some letters with you, which I may or may not tuck into an envelope and stamp. Two thousand nine has been an incredible year for me, and I need to recognize just a few of the people and organizations who helped make it so. Please feel free to write (and send) your own year-end letters. (You can always send them to me at www.abbysher.com.)
÷ ÷ ÷
This is a little awkward, but you were my first. I mean, there was that independent bookstore Anderson's, back in my hometown in Westchester, New York. I definitely loved those shelves and hid by the stacks of Choose Your Own Adventure books for hours. But Powell's, you were the first bookstore where I really fell in love.
Hyde Park, Illinois, circa November, 1991. Your storm door was dressed in fingerprint smudges and peace-loving bumper stickers. A tinkly bell announced each visitor and there was a cranky cat who scowled next to the cash register. Everyone who worked behind the desk smelled like dust and knew the history of the written word.
I wandered towards the biographies. Warren Buffet was next to Bruno Bettelheim and Lucille Ball. You had very eclectic tastes. I wanted to impress the hot guy with charcoal-stained hands who was moving towers of coffee table books and punching numbers into a calculator.
"Do you guys carry anything about...Dostoyevsky?" I had just signed up for a freshman introduction to Russian language, mostly because the one girl in my dorm who looked like she could be my friend was fluent.
"Yeah, look in Slavic," grunted my future lover/cashier.
"Duh, of course!" I squeaked.
I have to admit, I don't know that I ever bought something from your store. But for the next four years that I lived in Hyde Park, I ambled and lingered among your shelves for countless hours. I even put a few books on hold once just to have an excuse to come back in and for you to know my name.
Powell's, thank you for those cobwebbed spines and lost afternoons. Thank you for humbling me with your wisdom and teaching me that I could never be alone as long as I opened a new page. Thank you for the cardboard box of freebies outside, where I first learned to hoard textbooks about neurology and paperback philosophers with bites taken out of the cover. Thank you most of all for that charmed and frightening moment when I leaned into one of your warped shelves, sagging under the weight of thousands of words I'd never laid eyes on, and you gave me the most delicate kiss of a dream. Thank you for letting me close my eyes and envision a book spine with my name on it.
Eighteen years later, thank you for making it come true.
Happy New Year, Powell's.
[Editor's Note: While Powell's Books' roots are in Chicago, today the Hyde Park location operates independently of the Powell's Books in Oregon.]