Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Books Across America Eastbound

After spending a few weeks over the holidays with our grown children and our little granddaughter out west, it was time to turn around and finish our road trip and my project, Books Across America.  We were headed home to Ohio but along the way, I wanted to visit some more independent bookstores with the same simple thought in mind, to say thank you…

It's not fun to say goodbye to those we love, so to get inspired about the drive, we chose a different route heading north from California through Nevada, across the tip of Arizona past the northern rim of the Grand Canyon, crossing southern Utah into Colorado, through the Rockies and Denver to Nebraska, then Iowa and into Illinois before finally hitting Indiana then crossing the border into Ohio as we made our way northeast to where Pennsylvania, New York and Lake Erie border the state, to where we live in Cleveland.

Traveling this route across the US in January can be tricky, but we chose this route to avoid the flooding along the Mississippi River further south.  I was so glad we'd traveled the southern route on our journey west, and I'd already visited bookstores along the lower mid-section of the country (see previous posts for must-visit bookstores).  Now we had all new cities in front of us with dozens of bookstores I wanted to visit.  Mr. Lane kept me on track and insisted on doing ALL the driving so I could work on my new novel (he does not allow writer's block) and snap photos between stops.  We had great weather the entire trip and experienced some of the most beautiful scenes across our great country.  If you've never road-tripped for long distances before, you really are missing out on all the wonders of the different regions.  Get out there and see the country…you won't be disappointed.

I've compiled several lists of independent bookstores I visited along the way, and most of the time, I was able to meet with the owner or manager and present them with a signed copy of my newest release, The Lies We Keep.  Sometimes it took some convincing that it was just a gift for them, for their store or for their personal collection to show my gratitude for what they do, for promoting literature, and a place for readers to browse and talk about books, for authors to share their works and even more so, for the charitable work they do in their communities.  Oftentimes, I found stores were contributing to literacy programs, providing story hours for young children, offering meeting rooms for book clubs and writing workshops after hours, and even donating a percentage of proceeds to schools and needy families.

"I just want to say thank you for what you're doing, what you are providing for your community and for supporting authors and people who love to read," I said each time.

More often than not, they'd tell me it was a first, that authors never just stop by to meet them and say thank you.  That the more likely scenario is a series of phone calls to try to schedule an author for an event and then find that the author can't fit them in on tour.  Yet, these booksellers support local authors, offer events throughout the year for their customers and even sponsor conferences for authors and readers.  Of course all authors appreciate them, but I got the feeling these small Main Street America bookstores were not used to being recognized as special, and important to our communities.

There's just something wonderful about entering an often historic building, the door sticking a bit and the bell jingling as you step inside, a friendly bookseller saying hello from behind the counter, stacks of books lining the walls, sometimes so tall a ladder is needed to retrieve a favorite title.  Nooks containing overstuffed bookcases filled with all the stories that transport us to other places and times, new worlds where we can learn and experience through characters from all walks of life.

Stephen King said, "Books are a uniquely portable magic."

So true.  And to me, these cozy bookstores tucked along rural roads and highways, set within strip malls and town centers all around the country are providing a bit of magic for all of us.

Here are a few I visited along the way…

Grand Valley Books, Grand Junction, Colorado:  This lovely bookstore is located at 350 Main Street and has a fantastic selection of used and new titles.  I arrived at this store on a very cold evening right before closing time.  I somehow didn't have them on my list of stores to visit, but after we checked into our hotel for the night, we took a drive in search of a good steak dinner and behold, I spotted Grand Valley Books tucked along Main Street in downtown Grand Junction.  Mr. Lane was happy to drop me off while he drove around for a few minutes to see if their was a good restaurant for dinner.  When he came back, I was standing outside on the sidewalk with a bag full of books.  I couldn't resist grabbing a few titles for the road, two on western history and one new release of contemporary fiction I'd been wanting to read for some time.  I noticed they were closing up shop and knew Mr. Lane was waiting on me, so I didn't mention that I was an author, since I tend to go on and on once I get going and didn't want to hold anybody up, so instead, I decided to keep it short and sweet.  "This is a lovely store, we're just driving through and I'm so glad I spotted this shop, what a wonderful place."  A very nice woman at the register said, "Thank you," and smiled -- and for a moment I wanted to be her, live in this town, own this shop and live everyday surrounded by books about the Old West and Native American Topics, with literary fiction and other genres all mixed together within the cozy confines and bookshelves of this sweet small town bookstore.  The mountains off in the distance surrounding this place were so beautiful as I stepped outside where I could see my breath and just as Mr. Lane pulled up, the snow began to fall and I knew the world of literature was alive and well on the Western Slope in Grand Junction, Colorado.  Too bad that when I read more about this store a few days later, they described themselves as folks who "Cater to odd requests, brilliant conversationalists and esoteric interests."  I guess I could have struck up a longer conversation after all.  If you're heading to Colorado on a ski trip, do stop in at this charming book store.  You'll definitely discover a good read for the trip.

Indigo Bridge Books, Lincoln, Nebraska:  I visited this independent bookstore inside The Creamery Building in downtown Lincoln on a quiet Sunday afternoon and found the store filled with people enjoying a cup of coffee, flipping through books or reading intently with others chatting quietly and enjoying a pastry at tables lining the sun drenched front windows.  I'd read about this store and how it had opened based on an idea that came out of a discussion about having a bookstore that could serve as a community resource, a place to support literacy, located downtown to bring together Lincoln's diverse population, especially welcoming those who don't speak English, offering multilingual events.  Children from the neighboring areas were invited to help with the decor, painting chairs bright colors and creating artwork for the large branchy tree created by artist, Toby Hollingsworth Thomas, standing proud and large in the center of the store.  
With the mission to build a stronger community the store has continued on in this tradition, offering events every week from writing workshops, a variety of reading groups like Graphic Novel Book Club, multilingual story times, and local author readings, as well as  bestselling authors on tour.  A delightful space with a wonderful coffee bar offering up a menu of specialty coffee and tea drinks and some lovely treats and sandwiches.  This is not just a bookstore but a place to gather, discuss books, study, write or just steal a quiet moment in the middle of a busy day.  There's a feeling of community the minute you walk in the door and a friendly, helpful staff at your service.  Check it out.  Also…Lincoln is a wonderful town and high on the list for livability, ranked as one of the best towns in America to start a business.  (My favorite besides Indigo Bridge Books was the cozy library in the lobby at the Marriott Hotel, this town loves books!)          

Cafe Indigo at Indigo Bridge Books 

Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa:  I met with the delightful owner of this charming bookstore, Alice Meyer who talked to me about her store with warm pride about waiting for two years for the perfect corner location on Beaver Avenue in a lovely north Des Moines neighborhood.  The store carries all new titles in a wide variety of genres for devoted book lovers.  With the perfect location  and plenty of parking, the store was filled with natural light from the wraparound windows.  There were cozy corners to sit and read for a while and tidy rows of bookshelves with room for events and author readings.  Alice was so kind and seemed truly devoted and enthusiastic about being a bookseller, telling me about independent bookstore owners being a tight-knit group and devoted to books and the neighborhood customer.  Other cheerful booksellers were at work behind the counter helping customers find the titles they were searching for and seemed to love their jobs.  Once a week, booksellers read from their favorite children's books at Storybook Time on Thursday mornings at 11:00 with time for singing and other surprises.  The store hosts several book clubs, offering discounts on books the groups are reading, groups like Book Browsers Book Club, Environmental Book Club, Mind-Body-Spirit Book Club, Mystery Book Club and Second Saturday Book Club.  The store also offers a discount to teachers for books for their classrooms and for home-schoolers as well.  The booksellers are happy to order books for customers if there is not a copy in the store.  The store supports local writers by hosting regional authors for readings and signings, and the Beaverdale Writers' Group meets at the store  offering the aspiring writers information about the publishing process and marketing a book once it's published.  Beaverdale Books will host The Season of Story in February 2016, sponsored by the Stories Are History Committee dedicated to promoting storytelling events throughout the state of Iowa.  Beaverdale Books is an active community oriented bookstore dedicated to serving Des Moines book lovers.  Stop by this wonderful gem of a bookstore next time you are in Des Moines.  

My Life On The Lane is busy with lists of bookstores to visit and miles and miles of highway to discover along the way.

Stay tuned for upcoming favorites from my recent trip, my lists of Coastal Bookstores, Big City Small Bookstores, Island Bookstores and Tiny Town Bookstores.  Also, a post about the newest trend in lending libraries -- Little Free Library.


"My bookstore obsession grew to the point where I'd search for the new shops during family trips, as if that were the reason for our travel."  ~Lewis Buzbee, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History

"A bookstore is one of the many pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking." ~Jerry Seinfeld

"those of us who read because we love it more than anything, who feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers." ~Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Home Is Where You Hang Your Heart

Leaving home is always tough, and home for me is California.  We've moved twelve times over the years, living all around the country and even overseas, all corporate relocations.  But, California is home.

I grew up mostly in Northern and Southern California, south of San Francisco and then south of Los Angeles.  So the entire state feels like home to me.  But my hometown is Irvine in Southern California.  That's where I went to high school, commuted to college, got my first job, bought my first car, my first house, and gave birth to my first child.  Irvine holds a part of my heart, even though the thousands of acres of orange groves and miles of open craggy coastline are nearly built-out with red-tiled roof houses, corporate office parks with glass-walled mini-skyscrapers, outdoor shopping malls with elaborate landscaping and fountains, designer boutiques and movie star owned
restaurants, giant manicured parks with lit-up baseball fields and balloon rides.  The lazy ranch lifestyle I knew as a kid is gone now, replaced by a fast-growing metropolis, but I still feel the same connection to what it once was when I go home.  I see past all the new development to long days at the beach with friends listening to the top 100 against the sound of crashing waves while playing backgammon on our towels while half the group was out surfing.  I see the old Angel's Stadium before they changed the name to The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Just for the record, Los Angeles is a good hour away from Angels stadium, forty-four minutes under the most perfect traffic conditions, plus Angelians have the Dodgers.  Just saying.  The Angels are not a Los Angeles team just because 'Angel' is in both names.  That would be like calling the San Diego Padres the Los Padres National Forest Padres of San Diego.  Ugh.

Okay, back to the subject.  Home is where you hang your heart.  And as I said, that's California, but it's also New York.  Upstate New York.  Way up -- where Lake Ontario meets the Irondequoit Bay which rests against a bluff with a little town called Webster where Mr. Lane grew up.  That's home, too.  We've lived in New York and California, so we both feel a kinship to each place, the water, the soil, the air, the people, the burgers, the burritos…we both feel 'at home' in either place.  The only dividing factor at this point is that my husband is a Yankees fan, a rival team to the Angels.  You'd think he'd give that up for the love of a good woman.

Baseball aside, it's getting more difficult to leave what I consider to be our hometowns and go back to our regular life in the place we actually live.  Both of us are beginning to long for home more and more.  For that sense of same.  Being grounded.  Don't get me wrong, we've had a great life and I wouldn't change a thing, we've seen the world, traveled through dozens of countries, living near some of the most beautiful cities in the world.  But now, as we face our future as empty-nesters, the idea of settling down finally sounds good to us…and it's about time.

The last time we left California was recently, right after celebrating the holiday season with our grown children and our new granddaughter.  We woke up on our last day in town and Mr. Lane was not feeling well.  We got as far as the lobby before he looked at me, green-faced and said he didn't think he could get in the car and drive all the way to Utah that day.  I placed the back of my hand on his forehead and sure enough, he was burning up.  "Honey, you're sick."  He looked at me like, duh.  I guess I hadn't noticed in between packing and trying to get out of the hotel on time.

I grabbed him by the arm and headed back up to our hotel room and put him straight to bed.  We stayed another night, and he was sick for exactly 24 hours.  I have to say, I wasn't at all sad about having to stay another day.  However, since he was so sick, I remained with him at the hotel instead of visiting more with our family.  I ordered up an extra down blanket and pillows and got him comfy.  While he slept it off, I worked on my new novel, but whenever he awoke for a bit, we'd talk about our kids and how great they were all doing.  "Thriving" was a word that kept coming up.

So, if everyone was doing so well, then why did it feel the pull to move home was stronger than ever?

Well, let's face it, our granddaughter is the cutest person ever born.  I'm sure our children were cute too, but we don't remember anymore if they were or not (sorry kids, that's just the truth).  And this little bundle of silly love is so fun and so in love with her Nana and Poppa that we can't get enough.  So, she's definitely a large part of the pull.  As we talked some more, the sun streamed into the room from the corner window where if we stood just right, we could see a hint of ocean in the distance.  Winter in California means clear blue skies and several zillion less people on the freeway trying to get to Disneyland or Universal Studios, so the view was beautiful and even peaceful glancing toward the highways.  "But, the taxes," we kept reminding each other.  "The price of real estate," we cringed.  Then we'd glance back out the window at the snowcapped mountains to the east and roll our eyes…"It's just so darn gorgeous here."

You see, we're at a juncture in our lives where we are considering all opportunities, we both have a resurgence of energy to work hard in our careers until retirement, which is still a decade off.  So, looking out over Orange County, it was hard to not think maybe we should be working there instead.

When we finally left Irvine and headed toward the eastern edge of California, we were both quiet along the way, and as we crossed over the border into Nevada and then across the tip of Arizona into Utah,  I began to cry.  Mr. Lane reached across and held my hand and said, "I know, I feel the same way."

"It's so hard being away from all of them," I said.

We kept driving and with my bookstore visits for my project, Books Across America, we both began to get sidetracked from our sorrow at having to leave.  We were slowly making our way back to Ohio, taking the northern route through Colorado this time versus the southern route through Texas from the way out.  Crossing 18 states and a total of 5500 miles roundtrip.  The further we traveled the more I thought about going home to where we currently lived in Ohio.  I thought about the friends we've made there, our cozy home, the snowy winter days, the gorgeous green trees in the summer and I knew it would be okay.  I smiled at Mr. Lane and he grabbed my hand again, holding it for a long time.  "Home is where we hang our hearts," he said.

"I know.  I was thinking the same thing," I said.

We stopped at the next bookstore and I did my thing while Mr. Lane went searching for treats and coffee for the remaining 100 miles until our next hotel stay.  I kept thinking as I took photos of the storefront, it's true, home is where you hang your heart.  Every town we passed through people had chosen to make that place their home.  It's more about making a life, blooming where you are planted.  But still, I missed the kids.  I just did.

Where we live in Cleveland is currently on the rise enjoying a renaissance of sorts with new buildings downtown and once dormant neighborhoods coming back to life with a new generation and redevelopment.  But, was it home?  I kept asking myself that question for most of the trip.  We've lived in Cleveland for four years.  We have LeBron James, for Pete's sake.  And I'm a member of the best book club ever.  When we finally made our way south from Lake Erie and then east from the city and drove into our neighborhood, I spotted our house and the pretty pond across our lane and I glanced over at Mr. Lane who was smiling again at me and I knew I was home.  For now.

Six weeks on the road visiting our family out west had made us take a closer look at who we are now, what we want going forward.  We know we can't go 'home' to California just yet, that the direction of our careers will continue to lead us for the time being, but we do know that eventually we want to go home, back to our roots, near our family, where our biggest memories dwell.  But until then, our home is where we hang our hearts.

My Life On The Lane is full of adventure, long winding road trips, plenty of bookstore visits, a third novel underway with my heart still hanging in the midwest for now.

Watch for upcoming blog posts about the independent bookstores I visited on the second leg of our Books Across America road trip.  Some wonderful experiences with booksellers heading east.