Sundays In: Bookstore Tourism

by Dave Wheeler

Before the storm, I visited New York City. Having never been there, I was excited to tour things and places I’d heard about since as long as I could remember (Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Times Square) as well as more recent points of interest, whether culturally or personally (the 9/11 Memorial, the Stonewall Inn, Rockefeller Center). And now, having only returned to Seattle mere days before Sandy broke through the Jersey Shore and flooded Lower Manhattan, it’s bizarre and newly heartbreaking to see photos all over the Internet of water-logged devastation to places I now recognize for having actually set foot there, reunited with friends there, made new friends there.

In the book business, other indie stores and staff quickly become friends, family even, so when I travel, I try to stop in and peek around or say hello. While in New York, I slipped into The Strand for a glimpse at those 18 miles of books. I tried popping into BookCourt to say hello to the genial and talented Emma Straub (Brooklyn bookseller and author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures), whom I hosted for her reading here, but, alas, she was home writing that day. Earlier this year, I visited Chicago during the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, and made an appearance at Open Books, the Second City’s premiere used book and literacy emporium.

I really don’t travel all that frequently, so I primarily keep up with these and a bundle of other bookstores on Twitter. When news of the hurricane hit, Twitter became my mainstay for information (as it has been for much of the political campaigning this year, too; times I could not watch debates or conventions on my own television, I observed vicariously through the Twittersphere). I watched the warnings stream through my newsfeed–Go home! Stay safe! Then the bookstore newsfeeds went dark. Friends and others I follow on the East Coast informed the world they lost power. With all the water and wind and chaos, I, frankly, was surprised just how up-to-date of a live-stream I was getting.

And when the weather died down, and just when I began to worry over rows and rows of sopping books, I started seeing these:

But places like Powerhouse Arena (NY), The Book Barn (CT), and Bank Square Books (CT), suffered more damage.

They do plan to reopen soon. Most already have. It would be a sad thing to see bookstores have to go out that way. In a time when so many are closing their doors for so many other reasons beyond their control, in a time when Seattle has to watch another of our fine bookstores, Queen Anne Books, empty their shelves for good, it’s good to be reminded that bookstores are resilient, dynamic, and adaptable. It’s good to see communities rally to recover what they can in dire circumstances.

So many people and businesses have been affected by the hurricane. For the purposes of this blog, I saw fit to highlight the bookstores, but many more still need aid. Please consider donating to relief efforts like the Red Cross or Occupy Sandy Relief.

“Sundays In” is a bi-weekly column written as the experiences of one reader to another. While much of the week might be filled with work and errands, there might just be one afternoon to enjoy the pleasure of reading. For this bookseller, “Sunday” is Thursday.

Summer Booknotes from Our Staff

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson (Basic Books)

It turns out feathers aren’t just interesting to birders as Thor Hanson entertainingly shows here. Peppered with historic anecdotes and interviews with both scientists and feather fanatics, his book guides the reader from the controversial fossil record (which sparks hot debates such as the “ground-up” vs. “tree-down” flight theories) to Vegas show girls in their elaborate feathered costumes. The enthusiasm of the people he encounters and his own passion for the topic is surprisingly contagious, turning a book on the niche study of feather evolution into an unexpectedly fast paced read. -Pamela


Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart (Algonquin)

Amy Stewart follows her award-winning book, Wicked Plants, with a look at the high drama of insect and human confrontation in Wicked Bugs. Among the many stories Stewart collects are that of an Arizona woman who, upon awakening from surgery for a supposed brain tumor, discovers that she is harboring a huge tapeworm. Readers will also find out about the chemical weapons brandished by the bombardier beetle (famous for avoiding being eaten by Darwin), and discover that bed bugs can live in overgrown toenails. Here’s more proof that fascinating stories live close to home. -Karen


Booknotes, the newsletter of The Elliott Bay Book Company, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Booknotes from Our Staff

The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson (Bloomsbury)

The argument is that morality is a biological evolution rather than a learned social idea—an evolution that was selected long ago—meaning that we aren’t the only species capable of moral reasoning. The reader is introduced to dolphins who respect the catches of other dolphins, vampire bats who share regurgitated blood with deserving fellow bats, and egalitarian female lions who hunt cooperatively. Throughout the book, the author employs Herman Melville’s Starbuck and Ahab to illustrate the division in our view of animals: are they commodities or thinking creatures? The Moral Lives of Animals is an intelligent appeal to reconsider the way we think about animals. -Pamela


Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors (Ecco)

Between April and August for the past eight years, Philip Connors has been a fire-watcher in the remote New Mexican wilderness of Gila National Forest. Like Kerouac, Snyder and Abbey before him, Connors experiences and observes a vast array of raw nature from his perch high above the forest floor. As Fire Season tracks the changing Gila life cycle, the reader is educated about the evolution of wilderness management and the constant challenge of being responsible stewards of this forest tinder box. These field notes will leave you yearning for the solitude required to live and reflect in such a lucid fashion. -Jamie


BOOKNOTES, the book review of THE ELLIOTT BAY BOOK COMPANY, is written entirely by bookstore staff. It represents a sampling of recently published and forthcoming books that we have enjoyed reading. We appreciate every opportunity to assist in finding books to meet your interests.

Staff Recommendations from Elliott Bay

Few writers are able to reveal the natural world’s intricacies with prose so ravishing, fanciful and evocative as Ms. Ackerman can. In her newest book she offers a feast of facts, images and ideas, in these seasonally arranged essays based on the theme of dawn. The behaviors of animals, birds, humans at daybreak, the inspiration experienced by painters such as Monet, and our many sunrise-centered myths and rituals are a few of the subjects explored. With joyful contemplation we should be able, as the author puts it, “to enchant ourselves by paying attention.” -Erica