For a while now I have wanted to write about my job at Words Bookstore. I feel I owe it an honorable mention because, no matter how much I complain about it, I absolutely love my job. And really, the bookstore has always been there for me. When I first moved back to New Jersey and had no source of income, it saved me. It became my real home and my coworkers became my family. Many customers have witnessed how fantastically dysfunctional we are- we fight with each other, we complain about each other, we make fun of each other…but we also laugh together, have long personal talks together, and go out for drinks together. I think the most comforting thing for me, and probably for all of us, is that I can truly be myself around them. I can unleash my inner nerd and let it run free without fear of criticism or judgment. I can talk for hours about a single book and I know they will understand exactly what I mean.  It’s very reciprocal because we all have the same goal in mind- to be a great bookstore.

Working at the bookstore has also opened my world up to books I never even knew existed. I’ve come across so many little gems, either by talking to my coworkers and customers, or by browsing the shelves during a lull. If I pick up an unfamiliar book, chances are someone I work with has read it, so I can get an instant review. By the same token, I love giving out book suggestions to people in the store. “Come back and tell me how you liked it,” I always tell them. They usually do.

Speaking of customers, we have some fantastic ones. It’s a great feeling when someone walks in and you can greet them personally. A lot of the time they look at us in shock that we remember their name. But the bookstore is a place where you can slow down and get away from the impersonal world of self-check out and large department stores. I can’t tell you how many times a customer will come in looking for something quick and end up staying for hours just talking to us about books, people, life- anything that’s on their mind. They appreciate that we take the time to make the connection, and we appreciate that they make our time at work that much more interesting.

Although I’m at the bookstore a lot, I rarely get sick of it. And when I do tire of it, I find that after spending some time at home, I start to miss the store. Sometimes I go into work an hour early just because I’m bored at home, or on my days off just to organize some books for a little while. It’s soothing to me, I guess. And I always feel like when I’m not at the store, I’m missing something.

I’m not sure how I will feel when the day comes that I have to leave the store. It will be sad, for sure, but I know that I’ll probably stay friends with my coworkers forever. And of course I’ll always come back and visit, just to say hello…and maybe to organize some books.

Contrary to the habits of most people my age, I wake up rather early- around 6 or 7 in the morning. Of course, this is usually because of an early obligation, but I’m finding that even on my days off I enjoy getting up with sun, when the house is silent and the world outside is still drowsy. It just so happens to be one of my favorite times to read.

It might seem odd to start reading first thing in the morning. In fact, you might be thinking that it would put you right back to sleep. But for me, it has the opposite effect. I find myself excited to wake up and dive right into a story, especially if I had just left it the night before. It gets my mind churning and my eyes moving. At the same time, it eases me into the day. Instead of waking up and immediately running out the door, I take my time and slowly build myself up to face the day. I find that if I read in the morning (preferably with a nice big cup of black tea), I’m in a better mood throughout the day. If I wake up doing something pleasant and enjoyable, it makes sense for my mood to follow suit.

Similarly (or maybe ironically?), when night falls, the best sleeping pill is a good book. I sink into my favorite chair in the house (once again accompanied by a cup of tea, this time green) and read until my eyes begin to protest. There is something to be said about reading by a window. I find that it makes it both easier and more difficult for the reader to slip into the world of a novel. Easier because one does not feel confined to their surroundings; the window is an aid to the imagination. But at the same time, difficulty sets in when one’s mind wanders too much, to the point where they get distracted by the goings-on outdoors and lose track of the novel all together. Here lies the dilemma of the reader- controlling one’s imagination. But that, of course, is another entry in itself. Let us return to the ways in which we, as readers, can “set the mood.”

In the summertime, the greatest effect can be achieved when sitting by an open window overlooking a dark street or shadowy pathway, while the cool breeze of a threatening thunderstorm breaks up the humidity of the day. In winter, nothing beats reading beneath the warmth of a blanket while the trees shiver outside and the snow gathers in heaps. Whatever the season, darkness is key. It erases everything around us and allows us to focus only on what we can see by the light of our lamp- our books.

And so it is that my favorite time to read is in the early morning and late night, like bookends of my day.

About two weeks ago I went to the used book sale at the Maplewood Memorial Library.  This biannual event is something I’m constantly looking forward to. The last time I was there I spent a good hour roaming around, sifting through boxes, boxes and more boxes. Locals are constantly donating their books throughout the year, culminating in a grand explosion of literature that yours truly gets to (happily) clean up. I was grabbing books left and right- old favorites as well as new titles I’d never even heard of. That’s the beauty of a used book sale, you can take a gamble on something unfamiliar and you won’t break the bank in the process. Plus, you are most likely putting your money towards a good cause or local organization.

That day, I walked away with two huge bags of books for about $20. This time, I had to enforce a little restraint, despite the fact that I was practically licking my chops. I filled up one medium size bag and immediately went home to stack my selections proudly on my teeming bookshelf. I picked up a random book that I had brought home (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon) and started leafing through the pages. The book fell open naturally on page 59, where the spine had been cracked and where sat an old postcard dated May 11, 2003. The front had a picture of blooming spring flowers, and the message on the back read as follows:

Jolie dear-

You must remember primroses bloom in May too! Remember too, all you have accomplished and all you are right now – and how you chose to be a mother- and are a great one. I am enjoying my quiet day and thinking of you and Lily, your long time friend, a mother too. The begonia plant looks perky today-

Hugs & Hearts & Love

Mother.

When I read this postcard (which I’m assuming is a Mother’s Day card) it really struck me. It was handwritten in cursive, which was a little hard to decipher so I had to skip over some unidentifiable words. But I just thought it was a beautiful message from a mother to her daughter. My favorite line is “The begonia plant looks perky today.” How absolutely charming.

I stuck the postcard back in it’s home between pages 58 and 59. That’s where it will stay, and I will always remember it’s there. Later that day I started reading the book (it’s good, by the way) and I couldn’t wait to get to page 58 so I could read the card all over again and pretend I had just discovered it’s magic.

I guess that’s the beauty of a used book. For a very small price, you are getting much more than just the author’s story.

I’m always reading something, but that doesn’t mean I always like what I read. There are those times when I need to hang out with an old friend, so I go to my bookshelf and pick up a book that’s been loyal to me time and time again. But there are also times when I need something new.

I’m always wary when I pick up a strange book. I invest a lot of time and emotion into my reading, so to do that with a book I know little about is a bit of a leap of faith. To be honest, I can be a bit critical of the things I read, so finding a new book I really really like can be a challenge.

This time, I picked right. I just finished reading House Rules by Jodi Picoult and OH BOY I just couldn’t put that thing down. It was my first Picoult- I’d heard of her a million times and seen her books all over the place but I never had the opportunity to take a closer peek. House Rules is her most recent novel, and it spent a while on the NYT Bestseller list (it actually might still be on there).  Picoult’s writing is not bad at all, but it also isn’t anything amazing. No, the thing that had me hooked was the story. I was swallowed up by it- so much so that I finished the 500+ page novel in about two days.

The story centers around Jacob, an 18 year old boy with Asperger’s. Jacob is absolutely obsessed with forensics, often butting in on actual crime scenes and adding his two cents, which is usually unwelcome by the police. The tables are turned, however, when Jacob is accused of murder. Picoult’s writing style is episodic. She bounces around from one character’s point of view to another, which can be hard to pull off, but this time works well. The characters are very well developed and their relationships are SO complex that you can’t help forming an emotional attachment to them. I can’t tell you how crazy this book drove me. There were times when I would scream out loud because I couldn’t believe what was unfolding on the page, and yet I didn’t dare leave it alone for a second.  It was a roller coaster all the way until the end.

So if you’re looking for a story that will really grab you and shake you around a bit, pick up House Rules. I will warn you though, this is not a light read. Not only is it long, but the emotions are heavy. You will feel for these characters. I’m not saying you need to empty the Kleenex isle at Target, but just be prepared for the urge to reach out and give these characters a good long hug.

Happy reading!

When I was a kid, my cousin Sharis and I would write letters back and forth between New Jersey and Boston. Our families usually only got together for Easter and Thanksgiving (maybe Christmas if we were lucky) so the wait in between seemed like a lifetime. For two girls who were as attached at the hip as we were, this was nothing short of torturous. Back in those golden years of the 90’s, the world had yet to be sucked into the tidal wave of technology that we seem to be riding so smoothly now. There was a simple solution to distance: write letters.

Our letters to each other turned out to be the golden thread that kept us close through all those years of being apart. Granted, the intellectual reach of a couple of 10 year olds didn’t extend very far. Letters between us looked something like this:

Dear Sharis,

Today I went to the pool and got to swim in the deep end! Chris and I played a game and looked for pennies at the bottom of the pool. They were subosed to be treazures in the oshean. Do you like my new Lisa Frank stationary?? I dekerated the envelope with stikers! I cant wait till Thanks giving!!! 4 more months!! Write back soon!!

Love,

Laurie

This might be a (slight) exaggeration, but you get the point. There are few pleasures in life as simple and basic as getting a letter in the mail, and I for one am saddened that this art form has been tossed aside. In the Gym Class of Life, letters would most certainly be picked last for dodgeball, especially if iPhone and Skype are already on your team.

While, yes, it is exciting to get a Facebook message or email, letters possess a timeless quality that just can’t be matched by any technological advancement. I love that you can hold a letter in your hands. You can ruffle through the pages and run your fingers over the ink. The pages you hold are the same ones touched by your sender. There is something so personal about that. Penmanship, as well, says a lot about a person’s character. I almost feel like to see someone’s handwriting laid out in a letter is to see them naked. In the end, the physical letter itself has the power to say more than the content they hold. Compared to a letter, an email just seems…cold.

If you want a great example of the beauty and power of letters, read Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road. In just 114 pages of correspondence between the author and a small English bookstore, Hanff reveals the emotions that can arise from a relationship built solely through letters. It’s a book that you can sit down and read in an hour, but the story will stick with you. I promise.

Recently, Sharis and I decided that we are going to start writing letters to each other again. The first thing I did was go out and buy a roll of stamps and some nice stationery. Yes, stamps are 12 cents more expensive than they were in 1995, and I’m not even sure if Lisa Frank still makes stationery, but I’m positive that the excitement of seeing her letter in the mail hasn’t changed a bit since I was a kid. And that’s something that will never go out of style.

Verba volant, littera scripta manet…words fly away, but the written word remains.

Earlier today I was thinking about what exactly I wanted to blog about. “Well,” I thought to myself, “books, obviously.” But then I thought, that’s not good enough. What really matters is what you discover in between the pages-the characters, the stories, the setting, the art work-and how that all connects to our daily lives. Most people don’t think twice about these things. Most people don’t really care or notice…which is fine. I know everyone isn’t a bookaholic like me. But what if I could get people to notice? Not just about books but about words and language and history and the beauty in a great piece of writing. I want people to feel the word. Feel the word. Let words sit with you, hang out with them, invite them over for a beer. Get to know them. You might find that they have been there with you all along.

So, no, I wouldn’t say that this blog is all about books. It’s really about life.

Ok, I will admit that I am a bit of a book snob. I like my Austen and my Salinger and my Hemingway. They are my buddies. You probably won’t ever see me reading a book by Jennifer Weiner or Nora Roberts. I KNOW, I know, could my nose be any higher in the air?? I am trying very hard to change this terrible tendency of mine, but I have yet to develop a taste for, what we call in the bookstore, “Fun Fiction.” When I want to have fun, I pick up Kerouac or Wolfe. Is that so terrible?? When I want to fall in love, I pick up Austen. I mean come on, no one does love better than Austen.

Believe me, I have tried to change. As much as I hate to make this publicly known, I read all those damn Twilight books, and as I put down Breaking Dawn, I wished I could get back the last week of my life. Now, I could go on for hours about how I think Twilight is the worst garbage ever written, but that’s not the point of this entry. The trouble with books like Twilight is that, as gripping and enticing as their plots may be (and that’s debatable), the writing is just plain BAD. So now we have every gullable 13 and 14 year old girl devouring this nonsense and thinking that this is what good writing is supposed to look like. WRONG WRONG WRONG! For God’s sake, throw away that McDonalds and treat yourself to a gourmet meal of Salinger.

Actually, comparing books to food really isn’t so far fetched when you think about it. Take the growing organic food movement, for example. Finally people are becoming increasingly aware of all the dangers of the over-processed, picture-ready “food” they’ve been eating over the years. The result? A return to the old. Relying on foods that have been around since the beginning of time makes sense because we know that that’s where the quality lies. Grains, fruits, plants…these are the foods that Mother Nature has provided for us since day one. Suddenly the most obvious answer is growing in our backyard.

We need a similar movement for books. People are too used to the over-processed, formula-driven, appeal-to-the-masses “literature” that somehow finds its way to the New York Times Bestseller List. I propose another return to the old. Let’s go back to the classics and read books that were groundbreaking and influential, and STILL remain so today. That’s real quality. If you care enough about your body to eat organic, then you should care enough about your mind to read the classics.

Now I know I’m probably going to get a few people all riled up for saying that, but I’m just being honest. And let me make myself clear, I am NOT saying that every modern book is trash. There are TONS of great books out there, new and old. Just remember to read with a grain of salt. Vampires are great, but not overly-sensitive, whiny, needy, high school vampires.

Yea, I’m a book snob. And until I pick up a piece of “Fun Fiction” that has a backbone, I think I might just have to continue to be.