Past Kensington Palace and the tulip gardens. Past the statue of Queen Victoria. Past the lilies of the valley and the swans; the English doves which are so much bigger than the American ones, then down the street past shops and flower sellers, little cafes and fruit shops. Past the English schoolboys hitting each other in the street and the English schoolgirls pretending not to care. After breakfast of poached eggs and steamed tomatoes watching the others with their beans and sausage. The full English breakfast is a bit much for me. And then I here I am and Jeffrey Archer is talking about the debut of his book Cain and Abel on the Johnny Carson show, and I’m at the book fair and off to the races.
On the train from Heathrow, a woman asked me where I stay in London. I’ve been staying in the same area for over fifteen years. I know the nearby restaurants and most importantly, I’m near the park. She smiled, a smile that meant, “You aren’t still staying in Bayswater, are you?” but I like it. I always eat Lebanese food the first night and save the pita bread for the swans. I am so happy walking around Hyde Park watching the daffodils bloom, the lilies of the valley in their wet dark moments opening, and the trees sketching lines across the sky. This trip I may walk to my meetings, forget the Tube.
British television urges me go give money to save camels, donkeys and llamas who are working too hard to carry and pull. The donkeys shown seem quite overburdened. The store near my hotel sells lime water and curried chicken.
I watched the movie Joy on the plane. It was good to see this woman inventing a mop. I don’t think seeing that movie with Mark would be a good thing though. I’m not sure he would appreciate the mop.
I also read Marquez’ My Melancholy Whores which is about an old man who sleeps mostly with whores, and rapes his housekeeper. The housekeeper then falls in love with him. He decides for his 90th birthday to treat himself to a fourteen year old virgin who he only sleeps next to, like David with Abigail the Shulamite. But finally, when she’s fifteen they do sleep together, and she has a great time and you guessed it, she falls in love with him. The writing is beyond scrumptious, the plot is more than problematic. Food for thought on the plane ride.
In British films, you have your British explorers presenting their findings to the Royal Society. I know at least one writer who would have loved to live during that time—oh to travel and to come back to London and have people listening in rapt attention to your adventures. Like Marco Polo. Exactly like Marco Polo.
The Polish girls were drinking at 11 in the morning at my hotel when I came in. They were eating chips and drinking and taking turns smoking outside. I got a room in the attic overlooking the city. A slanted roof with pigeons outside. I ordered takeout Lebanese for dinner, so I have pita to feed the birds. There’s thin light coming in the window. When I arrived, I carried my suitcases up the many flights to the attic, and then came back down and stood outside in the morning light. The smell of toast was overwhelming coming from the hotels. At home, bread is out of the question. If we go out for breakfast, I have poached eggs with spinach. I haven’t eaten toast since I don’t know when. The Polish girls made me toast and coffee. Up in my room, I could see the tops of the trees starting in on spring, the buds ready. I like my room, cool and airy, I like the tops of the trees. It’s supposed to rain every day that I’m here. Luckily, I have an umbrella. I’ll walk around London with my umbrella and imagine that I am Winnie the Pooh. Tomorrow my girls get here, and all together. Teri is kind of like Tigger and Karen is Christopher Robin. We will walk around the city and feel the rain.
Say yes. That’s my move. I try to say yes whenever I am invited to read, speak, sing or dance. The singing and dancing is not something I am getting paid for, but I am still willing to walk out on the dance floor. AWP went really well, it actually could not have gone better. We sold a lot of books, and I admit I forgot about social media the whole conference, but I am going to get back on it. On Saturday, I fly to London for the London Book Fair. After AWP, I can say this, I have some really good literary friends.
The Texas air is warm. I’m excited to be here for the book festival, but mostly, to see Peggy. I dream of flying. Not like pelicans or crows, but more like seagulls. Or hawks.
The first time I had coffee I was in college. I quickly took to the stuff, and now, I stumble to my kitchen in the morning and get the machine started. As it begins to flow down my throat, I come alive.
Emperor Menilek declared to the clergy in the 1700s that he would allow the drinking of coffee, that it was not, only a Muslim drink. Hundreds of years ago, there was a debate on whether Christians should drink something that Muslims drank. Originally Muslims had banned it because of its stimulating effects.
Once the Turks were defeated, the Europeans discovered coffee and pretty soon, the first café was opened in Vienna and the Austrians began to drink coffee.
AWP starts this week, I plan to drink many cups of coffee. Some say the conference runs on alcohol, others on coffee. I still choose to think it runs on love of books.
Tonight Carmen picked me many flowers.
We are working hard and our heads are full of ideas and the desire for sleep.
A fox loping across the fringe of the sky.
The sky peeling away into the lake, bit by golden bit.
Threads falling off into the water.
The fox kept running across the grass.
The sun rising.
The sky still gentle before the sun pushed back into it with golden forks.
The fox ran into winter.
The sun rising.
The fox disappeared into winter.
Then I said goodbye to Cathy.
I climbed the stairs to the plane.
A special room in the sky.
I flew home.
My love affair with books began at libraries. Before I could afford to buy books, I could sit around in libraries and read them, carry them home, come back and get more. But if you love books, eventually you need to own some. I was living in my car in New England and wasn’t making enough to move indoors, but I had the hatchback of my car set up with a sleeping bag, a pillow and along the sides my little row of science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Carl Sagan and Ursula K. LeGuin. I felt very rich with all of my books. When I met my husband, we compared homeless notes. Where did you put your books in your car? How many did you have? We had both found a used bookstore and started a collection before we had a place of our own.
In college, I spent innumerable hours at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. It was my third place. I worked and went to school, but on weekends, you could find me reading between bookshelves at Changing Hands, sometimes lying on the floor, and when I left, I’d always have a small stack of books.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I discovered the Dutton’s in North Hollywood, Skylight, Book Soup, Vroman’s, Sisterhood Bookstore. I was in graduate school, and I had time to read. I discovered Doris Lessing, T. C. Boyle, Toni Morrison and Carolyn See. Going to a bookstore was my own candy store.
When my kids started coming along, I took them to bookstores as well. My daughter hated shopping for clothes, so when nothing fit her, I would drag her to JC Penney with the bribe of books. “If we manage to get two shirts and two jeans,” I’d say, you can have four books. Her brothers wanted comic books and graphic novels. Tobi was ready for Harry Potter and then Tolkien and Dumas when she was in middle school. Books were her bribe of choice. She read literally hundreds of books. She read with a flashlight at night, on camping trips, at restaurants and at readings.
We started Red Hen Press when the kids were three and five, so there were lots of readings, mostly at bookstores. We wanted the kids to be quiet so they’d bribe us. Complete silence and no interruptions would cost us five books. Three or four books meant we might be interrupted once or twice. We loved that they loved books. We loved that our kids were surviving having no television and were instead reading, playing games, having conversations, thinking.
That’s what independent bookstores still do in the world. They function as a place where thinkers like to hang out. If I were dating online, and thank God I’m not, my first question would be, “What’s your favorite bookstore?” That’s how I would know where we would meet to think about our lives. My whole romance with my now husband happened at a bookstore called Book Grinders. I’d find him between rows of books, discovering a new Calvino book, uncovering treasures.
For independent publishers, independent bookstores are the place where the conversation starts. If you want your book to be a big deal, if you want everyone to be talking about it, you need to do a lot of bookstore readings at your favorite bookstores, the ones where you hang out, buy your books, attend friends’ readings. Independent booksellers are a kitchen for the life of the imagination.
This weekend we went to Warwicks and D.G Wills in La Jolla. My friend Lisa bought me King of the Wind which I read later that day, a book I haven’t seen since my childhood. I bought my husband an old copy of Kafka’s The Parables. We bought new books and used books.
Whenever my husband and I go to a new town, we find the bookstore, and when we walk in, we feel the town’s heart beat, stories happening like waves rushing in, like the universe being born. Every time you enter an independent bookstore, from The Strand in New York, to Elliot Bay and Powells in the Northwest, Vroman’s in Pasadena, Tattered Cover in Denver, BookWoman in Austin, you’re part of the world of ideas. Where do you find a story, the next big idea, a way up, a way out, a way to connect? Independent bookstores, which is where the intellect meets the imagination. No one is telling you what’s cool, what you should read, who you should be. You are a curious traveler, an explorer, and what you’re finding is stories and ideas, and if you are dating, here’s an idea. Start at a bookstore; wander around between the shelves. If you can’t have fun doing that, maybe you shouldn’t venture into a bar or a bedroom. The most exciting organ in your body is your brain. Go to a bookstore, find out what your prospective date is thinking.
We all want a fun life.
When I was younger, I wanted a fun life but expected to work every minute.
I haven’t been disappointed there.
I did think the work part would let up at some point, but if you want that to happen, you need to choose the right work. Finance. Law. Medicine. Real Estate.
I chose the kind of work that doesn’t stop. Writing. Publishing. Teaching. Speaking.
I would like to breathe more but there is always a huge heap of work to be done.
There are the other jobs. Cleaning the house, taking out the trash, cooking the meals, doing the laundry. And then there’s fixing the car, washing the car, putting gas in the car, driving the car, paying for insurance on the car, making payments on the car, parking the car which all by itself can take a miracle.
I work too hard on behalf of writers and yet, I find myself quite a bit of the time, when I’m not too tired, having fun.