Independent booksellers of the coast: Hats off to you!

 

Independent booksellers of the coast:  We salute you!
A tribute is in order.  If urban North America is starting to recognize their contributions to shared knowledge and community well being, how much more true is this for small towns and rural areas?
In Comox, British Columbia, for two years running, Martina Polson reader-owner-community activist, has made our experience richer.  The selection at Blue Heron Books blueheron@telus.net is not overwhelming.  In fact, the pickings could be described as rather slim.   But  Martina has read every single title and knows most of the authors.  In addition to a well-vetted selection of fiction and non fiction, she carries   books for children and young people and can inform parents and teachers of what is just right for their fledgling readers. She has post cards, a dying literary genre, and can give you the stamps to go with them.  She carries all the nautical charts and indeed the Canadian Coast Guard requires all mariners to have the printed versions on board.  
I choose Jeanette Taylor’s Tidal Passages:  A History of the Discovery Islands http://www.harbourpublishing.com/title/TidalPassages/, an oral history based work that complements the wonderful Desolation Sound that I bought last year.   Also choose (the choice is tough when Martina lays out the options) Cabin in Singng River, the autobiographic story of a woman who lived in the wilderness outside of Bella Coola, felling the timber, building a cabin and thriving for many seasons.  Today Chris Czajkowski lives on a high altitude fly-in lake in British Columbia’s Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and leads the Nuk Tessli Wilderness Experience.  www.nuktessli.ca  
“How about books on Alaska? ” I ask.  “That’s not ours,”  says Martina, librarian-like, with a slight frown, as if I hadn’t noticed the strict focus of Blue Heron Books.   But she’s got a foot on moral high ground:   it’s not right that the Russians and the Americans grabbed the coast, leaving the British with splendid rivers and upland, but minus access to the sea.   
Ketchikan, with its cruise ships clientele, doesn’t look promising for books.  But then I find Parnassus.www.ketchikanbooks.com  The small shop is up a flight of old stairs on Creek Street, a boardwalk over the Ketchikan Creek. 
I set foot over the threshold 25 minutes from closing and get a quick orientation from the owner’s assistant who tells me about the now very elderly woman who founded the business.  I leave with Joe Upton’s Alaska Blues.  The cover blurb by David Snow Falling on Cedars Guterson turns out to be dead on:  “…A beautifully written book about commercial fishing in coastal waters.  Joe Upton delivers the reality and romance of Southeast Alaska.”
In Petersburg has a 200 foot waterfront Chinatown known as Sing Lee Alley.  It’s not quite intact because at No. 14 is a Victorian bungalow that houses Sing Lee Alley Books.       
Tina, a fit, attractive, grey-headed fifty year old, is the owner bookseller.  We chat about environmental politics.  I mention that we lower 48 folks are sort of clueless.  What does she advise?    For local advocacy join the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.  For the rest: population.  Which one?  Humans.  ZPG essential.  Hardline.  Seems very Alaska.  
We leave with exactly what we need. Ocean Treasure: Commercial Fishing in Alaska by Terry Johnson of the University of Alaska and the useful, inexpensive State of Alaska’s Inside Passage Wildlife Viewing Guide put out by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the US Forest Service.
Descending Seward Street from Hertiage Coffee (and wifi) to the cruise ship waterfront of Juneau, I see Rainy Retreat Books http://www.juneaubooks.com at number 113.  I remember “Rainy Day Books” from something I’ve read.  “Used to be that,” says the burly owner.  He goes on to explain how some peevish mid-western bookseller of that name decided to sue the nine other Rainy Day bookstores across the nation.  “Rainy days and books,” he says, exasperated. “Isn’t that the point?”
Royce isn’t a native Alaskan; he’s from Syracuse, New York.  He and his wife had always dreamed of owning a bookstore and then one day there was ad in the New York Review of Books (I think he said, but it may have been the New Yorker or the New York Times).   After checking the business out and finding a climate milder than that of Syracuse, they moved 9 years ago.  They shelve used books right next to new ones, like at Powells.  
After Royce gives me a quick introduction to the best books of Alaska, I leave with two which become highlights of the trip (quite possibly because I read them in Glacier Bay). The Blue Bear is a beautiful autobiographical reminiscence by wilderness guide Lynn Schooler about his friendship with the great wildlife photographer Michio Hoshino, who is killed by a bear on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. The other book is The Nature of Southeast Alaska: A Guide to Plants, Animals and Habitats by Rita O’Clair, Robert Armstrong and Richard Carstensen.  Beautifully written, this is not your usual field guide.  Instead, it focusses on relationships and habitats and teaches you to look with wonder.
The busy summers of these independent booksellers balance out the long lean winter months, when they read, host local authors, and help tie together the social fabric of their communities.  Hats off to them.

A tribute is in order.  If urban North America is starting to recognize their contributions to shared knowledge and community well being, how much more true is this for small towns and rural areas?

In Comox, British Columbia, for two years running, Martina Polson reader-owner-community activist, has made our experience richer.  The selection at Blue Heron Books is not overwhelming.  In fact, the pickings could be described as rather slim.   But  Martina has read every single title and knows most of the authors.  In addition to a well-vetted selection of fiction and non fiction, she carries   books for children and young people and can inform parents and teachers of what is just right for their fledgling readers. She has post cards, a dying literary genre, and can give you the stamps to go with them.  She carries all the nautical charts and indeed the Canadian Coast Guard requires all mariners to have the printed versions on board.  

I choose Jeanette Taylor’s Tidal Passages:  A History of the Discovery Islands, an oral history based work that complements the wonderful Desolation Sound that I bought last year.   Also choose (the choice is tough when Martina lays out the options) Cabin in Singng River, the autobiographic story of a woman who lived in the wilderness outside of Bella Coola, felling the timber, building a cabin and thriving for many seasons.  Today Chris Czajkowski lives on a high altitude fly-in lake in British Columbia’s Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and leads the Nuk Tessli Wilderness Experience.   

“How about books on Alaska? ” I ask.  “That’s not ours,”  says Martina, librarian-like, with a slight frown, as if I hadn’t noticed the strict focus of Blue Heron Books.   But she’s got a foot on moral high ground:   it’s not right that the Russians and the Americans grabbed the coast, leaving the British with splendid rivers and upland, but minus access to the sea.   

Ketchikan, with its cruise ships clientele, doesn’t look promising for books.  But then I find Parnassus. The small shop is up a flight of old stairs on Creek Street, a boardwalk over the Ketchikan Creek. 

I set foot over the threshold 25 minutes from closing and get a quick orientation from the owner’s assistant who tells me about the now very elderly woman who founded the business.  I leave with Joe Upton’s Alaska Blues.  The cover blurb by David Snow Falling on Cedars Guterson turns out to be dead on:  “…A beautifully written book about commercial fishing in coastal waters.  Joe Upton delivers the reality and romance of Southeast Alaska.”

In Petersburg has a 200 foot waterfront Chinatown known as Sing Lee Alley.  It’s not quite intact because at No. 14 is a Victorian bungalow that houses Sing Lee Alley Books.       

Tina, a fit, attractive, grey-headed fifty year old, is the owner bookseller.  We chat about environmental politics.  I mention that we lower 48 folks are sort of clueless.  What does she advise?    For local advocacy join the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.  For the rest: population.  Which one?  Humans.  ZPG essential.  Hardline.  Seems very Alaska.  

We leave with exactly what we need. Ocean Treasure: Commercial Fishing in Alaska by commercial fisherman and university professor Terry Johnson and the useful, inexpensive State of Alaska’s Inside Passage Wildlife Viewing Guide put out by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the US Forest Service.

Descending Seward Street from Hertiage Coffee (and wifi) to the cruise ship waterfront of Juneau, I see Rainy Retreat Books  at number 113.  I remember “Rainy Day Books” from something I’ve read.  “Used to be that,” says the burly owner.  He goes on to explain how some peevish mid-western bookseller of that name decided to sue the nine other Rainy Day bookstores across the nation.  “Rainy days and books,” he says, exasperated. “Isn’t that the point?”

Don isn’t a native Alaskan; he’s from Syracuse, New York.  He and his wife had always dreamed of owning a bookstore and then one day there was ad in the New York Review of Books (I think he said, but it may have been the New Yorker or the New York Times).   After checking the business out and finding a climate milder than that of Syracuse, they moved 9 years ago.  They shelve used books right next to new ones, like at Powells.  

After Don gives me a quick introduction to the best books of Alaska, I leave with two which become highlights of the trip (quite possibly because I read them in Glacier Bay). The Blue Bear is a beautiful autobiographical reminiscence by wilderness guide Lynn Schooler about his friendship with the great wildlife photographer Michio Hoshino, who is killed by a bear on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. The other book is The Nature of Southeast Alaska: A Guide to Plants, Animals and Habitats by Rita O’Clair, Robert Armstrong and Richard Carstensen.  Beautifully written, this is not your usual field guide.  Instead, it focusses on relationships and habitats and teaches you to look with wonder.

The busy summers of these independent booksellers balance out the long lean winter months, when they read, host local authors, and help tie together the social fabric of their communities.  Hats off to them.

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1 Response to “Independent booksellers of the coast: Hats off to you!”



  1. 1 We’ve rounded the notorious Cape Scott! « Baggywrinkles Blog Trackback on June 26, 2011 at 6:26 am

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