The first book i ever bought with my own money was a copy of The Lord of the Rings at a yard sale for a nickel. Late 60's paperback edition. The edges were yellowed, and the book had been living in the room of an old man who had died just a couple of weeks before i bought it. I went home and read it, i was in fourth grade and it took me about a week. I can remember my mother haranguing me to bring wood in instead of reading. I didn't watch television (except for the Cosby Show and Family Ties and Saturday morning cartoons, natch) That week, i just read. The strange and exciting watercolor world that Tolkien made felt so real to me. Middle Earth might as well have been a previous epoch, sometime between cave men and the Knights of the round table. A time we'd forgotten, but Tolkien remembered. I remember staring at the color photo of him on the back, and when i read the book i could swear i could smell the pipe smoke and the dampness of his tweed jacket. For some reason it seemed to me there was never sunshine in middle earth, except for when Gandalf needed to vanquish trolls, so i always called cloudy days "hobbit days" and I'd go outside, find the longest stick i could, and imagine adventures, and just as likely non-adventures as that seemed the hobbity thing to do. I would find a secluded chunk of roadside wood, find one of the endless supply of boulders the ice age had left for me, sit down and ponder the details. What would my hobbit holes doors look like? What kind of teapot would I have.What are the Titles of books i'd have lining my hobbit shelves. Because as of then, as of the moment i gave my nickel over, books were going to be as much a part of me as my heart.
We had a small chain of bookstores near me called Mr. Paperback, they may still be around, I'm not sure. But they always left me feeling sort of ... sanitary. And that wasn't something i wanted from books. My public library was a place of astonishing beauty. The gilded age was kind to the Bangor Public library, miles of marble stairs, nooks and corners, dark turned and carved wood everywhere. As soon as i was old enough to be trusted "in town" alone, i would find my way there, I would lay under one of the giant oaken tables and read until my mom showed up to take me home. Of course that was another thing puberty ruined, suddenly being under a table was "creepy". But by that age i had my own card and would take out a book for a day or two and go sit by the Kenduskeag stream as it flowed under main street in Bangor and read. Heinlen, Asimov, Burroughs, I was a big fan of a young readers series called "Not Quite Human" about an android boy and his non android father and sister. I believe Alan Thicke had something to do with some bastardization of it disney barfed out. The first in an almost endless string of disappointing movie adaptations of beloved books (Demi Moore, you are no Hester Prynne). Then when i got a job, i began haunting the local used book shop, Pro Libris . For Christmas when i was 14 i asked for money and a trip there to go shopping. Buying "The Last Unicorn" for 75 cents and having a conversation with the hippy guy who ran the place about it...a real conversation...about books. Someone else peered into the world of literature and talked about it like it was real. Like the characters were in real peril. Like the outcome, had consequences for all of us. Like the writer knew something we didn't, and desperately needed to tell us. Over the years i developed my palate at that bookstore. Where Mr. Paperback was kind of clean and clinical, The library was classical and ancient and learned, and Pro Libris was hidden and clever, and far far too interesting to be tidy. Every time i went into these two building, which couldn't have been more different, i found new rooms to explore, new types of books that demanded my attention. I spent an entire rainy afternoon reading a 1910's anatomy book and marvelling at the detail in the plate illustrations. The weight of the book on my lap, the smell of the elder pages, the Ah-Ha-ian touchability of the illustrations had me at "this book is property of the Bangor Public Library, Reference, not for Circulation". Years later i bought it at a book sale. It saddens me that some young boy or girl won't be sitting on the ledge of the 8 foot tall window looking out onto the rainy Bangor streets with it in their lap, but then...if i didn't buy it, it may have ended up being prints on a doctors office wall somewhere. Lame!
So heres the thing- when your bookish in a small town, it doesn't make you friends. I can't honestly say i was disliked by a lot of people, but i had my share of bullies. I'm fortunate that it never came to blows, largely because since i was born in November i had a good 10 months of development on my classmates, so i was bigger than they were until 9th grade, and by then honestly...who cares. Back then being a nerd wasn't just putting on glasses and a retro t-shirt and finding something you like a bunch. Back then being a nerd or a geek was a stigma. Especially in small town Maine. People weren't tripping over themselves to be friends with the kid who wrote (a really awful) Doctor Who Fan Fiction in the 5th grade as his read aloud story project. In my home town if you were more interested in Hobbits than Hoops, or snow monsters than snowmobiles, you were treated as capital O, Other. I remember getting assigned to read To Kill A Mockingbird and I raised my hand to request another assignment as i had already read it, my teacher...My English Fucking TEACHER, actually said to me,
"Drew (thats my last name...well, not the quotation marks, despite what various reporters may think) Why have you already read this? Why don't you just stop being such a nerd".
This particular teacher happened to be the basketball coach in my school as well. My town won a lot of basketball. State champs a lot. I wish I could have been proud of it at the time, because i am now. The AP English teacher wouldn't let me take the AP English class because she didn't think i could "hack it" which i think was just her way of telling me she didn't like it in our other classes when i challenged her. I took the AP exam anyway which at the time was graded on a scale of 1 to 5, i had one of two 5's in my school that year. See when you were a kid then, a bookish, nerdy, becoming overweight, nonathletic, kid you were making a stand for intellect and creativity whether you wanted to or not. You were on the front lines of a war that,I have to say with some mixed emotion and surprise, we won. Big Bang Theory anyone? Some day, maybe at a highschool reunion i want to ask Shorty McAngry (one of the aforementioned bullies) 1.) if he's in recovery yet cuz i'm sure it's comign, and 2.) how much he liked Thor this summer. Fucker.
My point in all this is that when you go out into the world with a love of books, when you've fought the battle of nerdsdeep (when you get that joke), when your most vivid memories of your childhood have words printed on them. You cannot do anything grander than sell books. Books to me are something i endured great ridicule for, because they gave me great pleasure. Books as a thing, more than any single thing, have made me Cory Drew. My heart has pages, my soul is a dust jacket, my mind an index. When this is who you are, being a bookseller is not a job but a privilege.
Today was my last day as a bookseller, for now. An old colleague of mine came in, and I hand sold her a book for thirty-three cents. She was looking at the table and said in her most beautiful Iranian accent, "is there anything here worth buying?" to which I looked around and found her a copy of a book I knew she'd like. The loris lurked about me threatening to shout me down with some of the "punishment tasks" she'd arranged for me as i stuck up recently for my friends and neighbors in the face of her nit-picky face out derangement. But i'll be damned if on my last day, in a company that in some small way I HELPED BUILD i was going to go my last day and not recommend something. In the end I will not succumb to the melancholy witchcraft of liquidation. I do this job because i love what it is. I do this job for the little awkward nerdy boy and girl out there who need to find their Lord of the Rings, their 1910's anatomy book. I do it because, to not do it is an empty book, blank and without the promise of a pen. Liquidation may take my job, but it hasn't taken the words that are me, and it never will.
I am privileged to have worked with all these people who, like me, have given their hearts over to letters. We book people are inextinguishable fires burning in the dark and stormy night of a world too busy and too electrical to find boulders in a secluded chunk of wood and consider teapots. And when we fires gather there is a brilliance that creates angels and sages, devils and the dumbstruck. We are heat and light and God and the Laws of Physics declare that to be a thing eternal. Perhaps we scatter, perhaps we dim, but time and idea and Hobbits will bring us together again in new forms; we will burn as brightly, and with new colors.
I will miss it, I will miss you all. All things though, must end in order to begin.
So I'll end, where I began...
"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many path and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say" -JRR Tolkien
Okay, Lets see where this goes...