Train Wreck Books

I have friends who are addicted to a TV show called “Walking Dead.” They are smart people with busy lives, so I don’t judge them–in public.

Sometimes we all need a little escapism, and they keep describing some crossbow tough guy Daryl who’s actually a sensitive caring soul; he seems to be doing the trick for them.

Yet bibliophiles are not so different. Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that Jack and I are bemused by customers who simultaneously buy Christian romances and Patricia Cornwells, but we also get it. As a friend who works with criminal court cases involving the abuse of children once said, “If I can read something worse than what I see every day, it reminds me there’s still room to look down.”

In fact, friends addicted to “Walking Dead” run heavily to academics working with the next generation of students. Perhaps we’ll stop that line of speculation now. But the fact remains that people enjoy reading about the train wrecks of others, mostly because we like to remind ourselves that things could be worse than we know they are. Gives us hope. Or cynical laughter.

Sometimes, in the dark spots, those two things aren’t that different, y’know?

We greet a lot of female customers sporting casual business attire and sensible, low-maintenance haircuts, who come into our bookshop and smile at us without saying much. They browse for 20 minutes, and leave with nine Ann Rules and a Karen Kingsbury. We know from previous conversations what kinds of jobs they do. Bless them for it, and we will keep stocking the shelves with those nasty paperbacks full of train wrecks that reassure them there’s still room to drop.

Is it reassuring? Well, maybe it’s like comfort food. A Kraft Mac and Cheese box supper served warm on a plate might have repercussions later, but it feels good going down. And it gives us the strength to get out there and do what must be done.

Go, girls. We’re rooting for you. Karen Slaughter and Dean Koontz will be waiting when you need them.

Cookie Extortion

Jack returned shopsitter Andrew Whalen to his ancestral home on Sunday; Andrew’s mom drove down US 23, and Jack drove up it. It was a painless and swift swap.

Except now we have this hole in the bookstore. . .

The dogs lie about with doleful expressions. “Where’s that guy who rubbed our ears and plied us with chewy sticks?” their eyes ask.

Owen Meany, staff kitten, has never been the sharpest pencil in the pack, but even he has figured out that someone’s missing. This morning he stood on my face with an alarmed expression and informed me that the guest bedroom was empty. Then he bit my nose.

Meanwhile, without our steady, sensible shopsitter, Jack and I have braced ourselves for the boxes of books that come in during Christmas clean-outs. Lots of people trade over the holidays, in large measure because we have a “Boxing Day” tradition of giving out little boxes of shortbread as part of the deal, Dec. 26-31.

Which brings me to the mean thing I did to Andrew’s mom….

Tammy Whalen runs a company, COOKIE GLASS, that makes the most exquisite baked goods. Little flat ones with butterscotch chips, big thick ones with oatmeal, melty chocolate chunks . . . these babies are GOOOOOOOOOD.

When Andrew’s parents showed up unexpectedly about a month into his sojourn with us, she brought a dozen or so with her. My friend Elizabeth and I promptly sent Andrew to fetch a bucket of steam, and ate our way through the bag, moaning in pleasure. I think the poor kid got two.

That’s how we knew any amount of subterfuge was worth it to get more of these beauts. (They’re not expensive. And she ships. Check out COOKIE GLASS on FB, but make sure you get the company; there’s a couple of people by that name. Heh.)

Shamelessly, I composed a ransom note to Andrew’s mom, explaining that for one dozen cookies, her son would be returned unharmed. For two dozen, he would be returned without any rescue kittens stuffed in his hoodie pockets. (The bookstore fosters shelter cats.)

She bit; Jack and I are now guilty yet proud possessors of two dozen cookies in a beautiful green box with a gold mesh bow. We will be taking them to our friends Ashia and Witold’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, and the Whalens will be remembered fondly amid eye-rolling estatic bites.

In all honesty, I suspect anything this family does is done right. The cookies are brilliant. Andrew was brilliant. Having spent his early career in children’s television production and independent film-making, he will return to Brooklyn after Thanksgiving–during which, he informed us, the family gets to eat all the broken cookies during holiday production, so he didn’t begrudge our ill-gotten loot–to seek new employment, having packed in his Asst. Producer job in search of more challenges.

Jack and I have no doubt he will be snapped up by someone who recognizes that a sensible mind able to isolate and solve problems, keep order, create community and offer excellent customer service is rare and valuable. Wherever they go, Andrew and his equally steadfast female friend Ali will come right in the world–and do good in it.