Tag Archives: Chicago

Istanbul I

Wendy’s friends the GGGs (Grammar Guerrilla Girls) are handling the blog while we’re out of town, but on alternate days when scheduling permits, Jack and Wendy will post a few travelogues. Those looking for more Little Bookstore action should keep up with the GGGs on the blog’s regular days (M,W,F and Saturday) and those wanting to hear about the misadventures of bookslingers Jack and Wendy abroad, check in on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays.

Jack and I arrived at Charlotte airport and found first thing that our flight to Chicago, thence to Frankfurt, thence to Istanbul, had been delayed. “We’re never going to make it to Frankfurt. This trip is a disaster,” said my dour Scots husband, five minutes into our trip–and then couldn’t understand why I burst out laughing.

“Harumph,” he added for good measure, and I doubled over, honking and snorting as a security guard gave me a stern look and all the other people at the gate A16 edged away from the lady having a fit.

We were in fact so early to the airport (another husband thing) that we asked to get on the flight before our delayed one–also delayed. The nice lady at the counter did just that, and we found ourselves in the privileged position of being EARLY to Chicago. Which of course meant we had time for a pizza: what else would one do?

Fat and sassy we waddled onto our overnight flight, and woke the next morning, cranky, in Frankfurt. If one doesn’t arrive cranky, Frankfurt airport will take care of this for you; the place is joyless, soulless, and just plain nasty (although the city is nice).

Arriving in Istanbul at 2 pm local time – about 7 in the morning back in Virginia–a long line at passport control provided ample people-watching opps. Our favorite was a group of small children, probably from Malaysia, all wearing caps proclaiming they were part of an international children’s program designed to get people from very different places together to meet each other, and maybe reduce the urges some people have to attention-seek by blowing things up.

As we watched, this little flock of hat-wearing goslings sailed in and out of the security tapes intended to hold people tightly in queues, weaving among exhausted passengers of every persuasion–who smiled benignly at the kids and each other as the wee’uns flew over their feet and around their luggage. Even the guard was grinning.

I’m proud to be part of a world where little hat-wearing children can unite such disparate, tired people into a group.

Finding we had accidentally booked ourselves into an exquisite and comfortable hotel, we took a travelers’ nap, then set out in search of amusement. That is how we found out that we dress funny; while the shopkeepers and restaurateurs up and down the winding Old City streets of the Gulhane district greeted passersby with amazing accuracy in the targets’ languages, every time Jack and I passed one, they would ask, “Excuse me, where you from?”

I’m not wearing white tennis shoes, and Jack’s Scottish sweater is over a Walmart flannel shirt. Heh. This could be fun.

Tune in Sunday for a description of the Topkapi Palace Harem and other strange but wondrous people-watching moments.

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RERUN: The Day the Borders Opened and Closed at the Same Time

We’re reorganizing ourselves for blogging Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; today being Christmas Eve, we’re rerunning a favorite blog from before my book was published – actually, this is about the day we found out it would be. Enjoy, and have a very happy Christmas, Kwanza, etc. with your loved ones! We start writing originals again Wednesday.

Last year, my husband Jack and I  decided to take a vacation in celebration of two things: 1) five years of keeping Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books open despite e-readers, a tanking economy, and online sellers; and 2) that an agent had agreed to represent my book about our bookstore–a woman whose kind heart, spot-on instincts and amazing brain got my book proposal shored up and out the door in three short months.

The day after the proposal ambled off to make its way in the world, we did what any small-town small-business owners would do: hopped on the Internet to hunt 1/2-price vacation deals. (We had a lot to celebrate, but not much to do it with.)

Chicago proved affordable; off we flew for a week of forgetting we were poor. Our last day there, I awoke to an email from Agent Pamela; two publishing houses wanted to talk. On holiday herself, Pamela nevertheless called me, her voice exuberant as she explained, “We have sold this book, Wendy; it’s just a question of to whom.”

Jack and I did the happy dance around our hotel room, pelting each other with pillows.  We half-waltzed, half-floated down the stairs and around the corner to our usual breakfast nook–

–where the newspaper on the table lay open to a story that all remaining Borders Bookstores were closing.

Human hearts can sing with joy even as they crack open.

“Bookstores are doomed” blared the op-ed, while the news story gave facts and figures. Jack and I both cried while reading; here we were, on vacation from our solvent-enough shop, giddy with happiness that a book about our bookstore would be published, and one of the big guys was going down for the last time. Drowning, not waving.

Jack looked at me. “We passed a Borders yesterday, near the hotel.” Off we went, coffees unfinished.

Some of the staff were dismantling computers, pulling wires out of walls. One was crying. I heard customers asking if the books were half-off now.

I don’t know that I can convey this well, but in that moment “my book” became a book honoring we happy few, we band of booksellers who make sure people have access to not just the best-sellers, but the quiet wonders as well.

What we booksellers do is important, more than nostalgia, more than casual access to retail. Social Justice, All God’s Critters Got a Voice in the Choir, Equality, Education: take your pick. We represent an open market of free ideas, with value tied to meaning more than money. We have to be in our children’s future, or more will be lost than the feel and smell of pages. So much will be lost that the next generation won’t be able to count it. Worse, they won’t even be able to name it.

So Jack and I came home from Chicago with a book deal, and 20 books we’d bought at Borders–plus Unabridged, Myopic and After-Words. And we came home with an unabashed–and unquenchable–fire in our bellies, determined to be lifelong advocates for books and the people who sell them. That impractical, improbable trip to Chicago has been on my mind lately, as Little Bookstore prepares to launch Oct. 2

Because bookstores are more than important; they are irreplaceable.


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