Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Writers in the Flesh at the Bookshop

In the dozen years that our used bookstore, Old Saratoga Books, has been open, we've had a few famous writers browse their way through the stacks and order books from us over the Internet. We are located in a quiet rural village of Schuylerville in upstate New York, but are only nine miles from Saratoga Springs and the artist colony of Yaddo, so some writers have taken a break from the Spa City to check out our books. From the imposingly tall Donald Antrim ("The Hundred Brothers" is a hilarious novel) who strode in the shop in biker spandex that seemed to add another foot in height, to the friendly and down to earth author A.M. Homes (who coveted my "It's Always Time to Read" clock in the children's section), it's always interesting and gratifying to meet someone who makes the stuff I sell.

Authors come in many packages. Some shun attention like Jonathan Lethem, who I only recognized after I read his name on his credit card slip. I yammered on about how much I enjoyed "Motherless Brooklyn" but tuned in quickly to his desire to leave with his pile of books without any more chatter. Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Millhauser ("Martin Dressler") was similarly demure when he came in to quietly buy some fiction and grudgingly agreed to sign some (but not the paperbacks) of his books that we had in stock. His companion that day, Skidmore College Professor colleague Steve Stern, prowled around himself for copies of his short story collections to sign.

Despite his reticence, Millhauser has a special place of dedication in our shop as pictured on the right. The shelf of Modern Library classics lies somewhat dangerously in front of the door leading to our basement lair and storage area and my husband didn't know that a famous author was afoot when he briskly strode upstairs and flung the door open, nearing bowling poor Millhauser head first into some Ibsen plays. Someday we'll get around to putting that historical plaque up.

The biggest "rock star" in the bookshop, though, has to be Ruth Stiles Gannett, author of the fantastic "My Father's Dragon", who charmed her way into my psyche with her modesty. You can read all about it my gushing vintage blog post here.

We sold an antique children's book over the Internet to the late William F. Buckley in one of the first years we were in business and just last year sold a cookbook to "Salt" and "Cod" author Mark Kurlansky. That last transaction was spooky, because Dan has just finished "Cod" the night before and we brought the book in to the shop to be housed on our "Books We've Liked" shelf. Kurlansky's call came a few hours later and he wasn't particularly interested in discussing the whole synergy of the transaction (or perhaps was working under a deadline), so that was a brief encounter. Still, kinda cool.

In 1997 we hosted historian Richard M. Ketchum for a book signing of his lively "Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War". Ketchum was an editor at American Heritage for many years and has written many other engaging history and nonfiction titles. He was a courtly and delightful guest at our shop and took the time to speak at length with many of our customers, even the aggressive ones who conducted their conversations with a proprietary hand on his arm. Earlier this year we were also pleased to host Sheridan Hay in our shop for a signing to celebrate the trade paperback release of her bookstore novel "The Secret of Lost Things". She was a similar delight: warm, attentive to all who came and enthusiastic about chatting about other books.

There are many Saratoga County writers who have graced our shop: the prolific Joe Bruchac: poet, reteller of Native American tales and children's author ("Skeleton Man" is Scary with a capital S and highly recommended); Jennifer Armstrong, children's author extraordinaire whom I predict will one day score a Newbery Award; soft spoken Barry Targan, who brings the best books in to trade and who writes novels and short stories in between building handmade boats; Amy Godine, an Adirondack and Saratoga history writer who gobbles down books like candy; and Saratoga gadfly and urban planning critic James Howard Kunstler, who is best known in the larger world for his book "The Geography of Nowhere" and in Schuylerville as the infamous author of a critical New York Times Magazine article.

We're still waiting for William Kennedy to stroll up from Albany and I sure would whoop up a storm if Russell Banks dropped by, but all in all it's still a thrill when we get a real live author in among the ones on paper.

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