When left alone with the television remote I do not, despite my wife's suspicions, head over to ESPN and watch 300-pound men mindlessly pound each other in pursuit of touchdowns, concussions, and eventual mindlessness. That was my father's inclination. He could find, not only interest in any obscure athletic contest, but a reason to fervently root for one of the two contenders, neither of whom he had ever heard of.
I, rather, search out nature documentaries hoping to hear the echo of Jacque Cousteau: "Here hidden within the mysterious depths…" or some modern pretender's hushed whisper, "Our trail camera has caught the first glimpse in 50 years of this creature, long given up as extinct…"
It was with that same feeling of the naturalist’s cautious anticipation that I entered Quail Ridge Books yesterday. Our local, yet nationally renowned, bookstore has a storied history in its own right. In 2001, its longtime owner, Nancy Olson, was named national bookseller of the year by Publisher’s Weekly. She had often graciously consented to visiting my classes over the years to talk about how “her little store” was able to routinely out-hustle and out-sell the boys in the big box stores. She looked like your grandmother and was a business genius. Nancy passed away in March of 2016, and the store moved from its cozy quarters on Ridge Road to fancier digs in an upscale Mall. This was my first visit to the new location. I was skittish.
Snuggled under my arm was a copy of Color Me Chilled Out. My objective was to snag somebody in purchasing and do my spiel to have them carry the book. Color Me seems to be doing quite well online—Amazon runs out and orders more copies fairly consistently. But my publisher seems to feel that marketing is, in this new digital age, primarily the author’s responsibility. I glanced around, hoping to see Nancy’s ghost to offer me guidance: “Bob! How good to see you! What can I do for you?” Sadly there were no spirits, spiritual or liquid, to ease the way. I recognized many of the staff, but realized that they did not recognize me. I felt a sudden compassion for my students who approach me smiling in recognition: "Hi Dr. Schrag! I took your class two years ago!” "Along with a couple thousand other folks," is the response from which I refrain. “Well, hello!” I say instead.
The person at the counter is equally, but just a shade impersonally, polite: “Can I help you?” I tell her what I am after and she hustles off to return with a manager whom I do not recognize. I make my pitch, and she smiles and asks if I have looked at the “instructions for authors” on their website. “Of course,” I lie smoothly. “But I’ve always thought of Quail Ridge as ‘my bookstore’ so I thought I would bring a copy by.” I hand her an “author signed" copy. She smiles and says, “Well, I’ll get this into the right hands.” and scurries away.
I skulk back into the mystery section. Peering about for any new offerings, hiding my Kindle under my coat as you hide your coffee from home when you pop in to steal some extra Splenda from Starbucks. A hand touches my arm. Busted! But, no, it is the manager. “Sir, we already carry this book,” she says, handing me back my "author signed" copy. “You’ll find it over in the adult coloring book section.” And off she goes.
I feel light-headed. Color Me Chilled Out is on the shelf! It exists in the wilds of a brick and mortar bookstore! My brick and mortar bookstore! Without my even asking! Right there alongside literary giants! Maybe sharing bon mots with Billy Collins and Tennessee Williams. I casually make my way over towards my quarry. Careful not to startle it into flight. I pause before the coloring books. Apparently Dr Seuss’s estate has come out with a new coloring book, many copies. But, hey, that’s not bad company. And then, there it is. And I hear Cousteau, “Here, gliding almost shyly among its glittering cousins of the reef, is the even more beautiful Color Me Chilled Out…"
Well, he might have said that…