Sad News for Mansfield’s Literary Community

It is with great sorrow that I must relay news of the death of one of the bookstore’s most loyal customers, Landree Rennpage. Landree, at age 31,  was killed in a car collision Saturday night. The literary community in Mansfield is shocked at this news, and deeply saddened. I met Landree five years ago when I took over the store’s book club and started the writing group. She was one of my most faithful book-lovers and writers. For five years I had seen her without fail at least three times a month. We were never close friends, but we shared a love for the written word, which I have found is often all you need. To be a wordsmith puts you in a secret society with the rest of us who believe in the underestimated but unflinching power of language. Though we shared this club membership, we did not read the same kinds of books or write the same kind of stories. We shared a respect for each other, and through that respect were able to learn from each other. We each read books we may not have picked up otherwise and learned to look at our writing from new angles. Landree was a solid, talented writer and regular contributor to our writing group. She had pieces in the works that had great potential. It saddens me so much that they will not be finished. After engaging creatively with someone regularly for as long as we had, you begin to know them. Especially in the context of writing, which necessitates at one point or another, total vulnerability, the laying...

The Giving Tree

When I was a girl, my mom and I would go to the local mall to shop for Christmas. Back then it was a full, bustling place, lights and baubles everywhere and Christmas carols echoing through the cavernous halls. After we finished buying for our lists we would walk to the middle of the mall, near Santa’s station, to the Giving Tree. This short, artificial tree bristled with cards hung by ribbons, each labeled with a child’s name. Inside the card were the child’s Christmas wishes, their sizes and color preferences, and their age. My mom and I would go through each card, looking for the kid we were afraid would never be picked by anyone else. The oldest one, the one who still had baby fat, the one with geeky hobbies — essentially the one that most reminded us of me. We didn’t have a preference girl or boy, just a kid who was old enough to know where presents came from, or didn’t. Then we would carefully shop, being sure to get some of the essentials on the list — new winter coat, new shoes — plus a generous supply of the fun stuff and then something they didn’t ask for, a little luxury. For girls we would buy a set of soaps and perfumes and for boys, a little gadget from Radio Shack. Often a book made its way in the pile, too. Satisfied, we’d set the bag of unwrapped gifts, carefully folded with gift receipts, under the tree with the child’s card tied to the bundle. It was a glorious and strange feeling, to be...

Community Defined

Thanks to the modern majesty that is Facebook, I was reminded yesterday that five years ago, I was laid off from my job at the PowerHouse Arena bookstore in Brooklyn. I had worked there for two months. The manager told me, in her clipped German accent, that because I was the last full-timer to be hired, I was the first to go. I nodded politely until I thought my head might fall off, saying “yes, I understand,” again and again as she repeated the same bad news several times over, just worded differently. I went through the rest of the day feeling slightly detached from anything going on around me, telling myself this wasn’t the beginning of the end. When I got home I called my dad and cried. Then I went to a Guy Fawkes party in Crown Heights at the house of someone whose name I’ve forgotten, though I do remember they had a chicken coop in the front yard. I stalked around the bonfire all night, angry, drinking straight from a wine bottle. The next afternoon I posted on Facebook: “Sleeping the till-noon sleep of the unemployed.” Not long after, I came home. It is fitting then, that on the anniversary of the day my brief tenure in New York began to collapse, I am featured in a short film about my hometown’s downtown revival. Six months after I moved home from New York, I got a job here, at Main Street Books. Once I was ready to take over as manager, I had another interview with the shop’s owner, John Fernyak. At the end of...

Thoughts on Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

For actual reviews of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new book, Between the World and Me, please see the New York Times or Slate. Below are just some thoughts and reflections I’ve been mulling over in the weeks since I read the advanced reading copy that came to me at the bookstore. I picked the thin book out of my monthly shipment, read the back and thought to myself, this is going to be important. Turns out it was important enough for the publisher to move the pub date up from October 13th to July 14th. In the wake of the church killings, the police violence, and the riots in Baltimore, this little book on race said a lot to me, a white girl who has never had to think much about race before. It said a lot to many people, some of them my friends on Facebook who posted the book, held up by their white hands, in between posts of their white babies and white vacations. Between the World is framed as a letter from Coates to his teenage son, whose transformative years have rung with violence against those who share his skin color. I do not share their skin color and am one who Coates describes as having been brought up to “hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, believe that they are white.” This sentence comes early on in the book and made me uncomfortable. Perhaps mostly because I had never even thought about the concept of a race-less society before. Coates also said, in a New York Magazine article, that he is always surprised when non-black folk are interested in his work. But he means other...

History of a Born Book-Lover

A good number of people come in the store and wonder aloud how great a job it must be to run a bookstore. The answer, in short: it’s a dream job. From here many of these same book-lovers ask how I got into the business, so here’s the history of The Bookstore Lady. When it first occurred to me that being a bookseller would be a pretty rad way to earn a living, I was a high schooler, and I was in the very bookstore I now run. I was sitting by the window in the book loft on a rainy Saturday, looking down at the alley below. Yeah, I could do this, I thought to myself. And let’s be honest, with multiple-librarian family who dressed their only daughter as a bookworm for her first Halloween, what choice did I have? My first bookstore gig was at Second Story Books in Dupont Circle, Washington DC. It carried only used books that were shelved and stacked in every available space and with questionable logic. We had first editions and rare copies that were locked in a series of glass cases, and each had its own set of keys, identical to all the others on one comically large key ring. I never guessed right one on the first try. I was always put on the weeknight closing shift with G–, because no one else could stand him, but I would listen to him talk about his cats. A few years later I got a job at The Globe Corner Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass, which carried travel guides, travel literature, and maps...

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