Joyce Hinnefeld


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Book Lovers

I’m just back from the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) conference in Boston and the New Atlantic IBA conference in Cherry Hill, NJ. Friday evening, in Boston, I signed books and chatted with booksellers from New England, along with a dozen or so other writers. For some reason two booksellers from a store in the Virgin Islands were also included with this region (lots of writers offering themselves for bookstore visits there).

It was fun to meet people in this context, but even more fun to go out to dinner afterwards, with Steven Wallace from Unbridled Books, Grant Novak from the Vermont Bookshop in Middlebury (; Sandy Scott from the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, VT (; Sue Richardson from the Maine Coast Bookshop (; Lorna Ruby from the Wellesley Booksmith in Massachusetts (; and New England rep Debra Woodward and her husband Terry (who provided some great insight into what it’s like to teach history and social studies in New Hampshire—mostly it sounds pretty good!). These were all deep lovers of books, all smart, funny, and just excellent company. I can’t imagine more enjoyable dinner companions than people who love books this much.

Sunday in Cherry Hill was a little different—a dozen or so writers again, but this time moving from table to table at lunch to talk about our books, and then, during breaks in the table talk, standing up to give a two-minute pitch to the whole group. The microphone wasn’t working for my two minutes unfortunately, so I did my best to shout out news about In Hovering Flight. I know all writers find it hard to shrink their books down to a two-minute spiel, but we did our best. Of course, I kept thinking of everything I forgot to say. Chatting at the table was more fun, especially since I usually found myself talking about the primary settings of In Hovering Flight—Bucks County, PA and the New Jersey shore—with people who know those areas well. I also got to see Stephanie Anderson from the Moravian Book Shop ( and Rob Dougherty from the Clinton Book Shop (, and I got to meet lovely folks from Harleysville Books in Harleysville, PA (, Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, NJ (, and BookTowne in Manasquan, NJ.

But now a confession: The best part of this weekend’s travel, for me, wasn’t getting to talk about my book with a bunch of book lovers (though that really was very nice). When I got into Boston Friday afternoon, I actually had time for an hour-long nap. I can’t remember the last time I took a nap in the afternoon.

But even better than the nap was time on a plane to read—in this case, Marilynne Robinson’s novel Home. What a glorious book, and what a great reminder of why all these terrific independent booksellers do what they do. Certainly it’s not for the money, or for the deep public appreciation (booksellers are up there with teachers on those two counts, I think). It’s because they understand the fundamental, never-changing value of this simple thing: a deeply satisfying reading experience.

Actually, maybe it’s not that simple; I keep trying to explain to myself why I’m so enchanted by Robinson’s novel, and I find that I can’t. The reviews I’ve read haven’t done it either, though I guess James Wood’s review in the September 8 New Yorker comes close, when Wood writes of Robinson’s “fight with words, the contemporary writer’s fight with the history of words and the presence of literary tradition, the fight to use the best words to describe both the visible and the invisible world.”

Reading Home is like sitting on the porch and listening to the catbird in the overgrown yew bush in our backyard while he races through his fast and reckless song, just sitting and listening and not feeling any great rush to go off and do something else. I have a sense that I’m not the only person who doesn’t spend enough time this way. I’m grateful for booksellers like the ones I met this weekend, who remind us to appreciate the writer’s struggle with words, and the gift the outcome of that struggle gives us, when we just take the time to sit down and read.

P.S. Who besides a book person would tell me that she LIKES my long blog posts? (Thanks Debra!)

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