Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bookstore at the Edge of the World

When people describe this place, it is mandatory to talk about the "creaky wooden floors" but truthfully they only look as though they will creak--what they actually manage best is attempted homicide. During the decade-plus that I worked at the Elliott Bay Book Company, those floors almost killed me more than once, when the thin heels of my pseudo-Jimmy Choos became caught in the wide cracks between the planks of flooring and almost brought me to my knees. Charming, yes--hazardous, beyond any doubt.
Since it is a Seattle bookstore, I may be the only fool whose cigarette heels became a hostage of the floor--this is the land of sensible shoes where comfort trumps style in a big way and Birkenstocks excite no sneers. I am not however the only person who has come away from the rough-hewn bookshelves with one or two splinters. This may be one of the only bookstores on the planet where a pair of tweezers has a permanent and prominent spot near the cash drawer, and booksellers are routinely asked if they have a band-aid by customers who sport minor flesh wounds from slivers of cedar.
It is a spot that booklovers hope to find when they die, if they are good in this life. Along with the murderous floors and the splinter-laden shelves are rooms and rooms and rooms filled with books--so many books that you can lose yourself among them for hours, finding old favorites amid stunning new surprises, many of them signed.
Nobody wears a name tag at Elliott Bay but it's easy to see who the booksellers are, even when they aren't weighted down with books to put on the shelves. They are the people who walk through the place as though it's their home, which, to a degree, it is.
As it is for all bibliophiles--this sprawling, often dusty, historic building that clings to the edge of the world, close enough to a finger of the Pacific Ocean that you can smell it as you browse through books, that will endure as long as there are people who love the printed word encased between two covers. It's Heaven, it's Mecca, it's the Elliott Bay Book Company--and it's waiting for you.

8 comments:

Kim said...

Mmmmm---there's a novel in that bookstore. Or at least a dishy memoir!

Janet Brown said...

Yes--and I keep waiting for you to write your Sparkian novel about it!

Eugene Latt said...

It is always fascinating to read the soul and characters of a bookstore.

Katia said...

Indeed, there is a story in that place. My turn to visit your blog, Janet. I now need to find out why you chose to name it "Tone Deaf in Thailand", since you seem to live in Seattle :) I look forward to that.

Janet Brown said...

How did you find me, Katia? Thanks for dropping in! For the answer to why this is Tone Deaf in Thailand, my forthcoming book Tone Deaf in Bangkok may provide one. (I'm in what I hope is temporary exile!)

Katia said...

How did I find you? I can't remember. I clicked on a link somewhere and it brought me here. And I scrolled down and read several of your posts, and found later on - or rather, earlier on - that it is the title of your book. Congratulations again ! I spent time in Thailand several years back and loved it there. I haven't had time to read the rest of your posts but I like your voice and I'm curious about your book. Temporary exile... You mean you'd like to go back to Thailand to live?

Janet Brown said...

Yes, that's my plan--in September I hope. Maybe we can meet somewhere in the middle between Hyderabad and Bangkok--Shanghai perhaps?

Tokyo Ern said...

I love the Elliot Bay Book Store even though I haven't spent much time there as I wanted, working for another local book shop at the time. Oh, I suppose I can say Tower Books now that it's not longer there! There's even a story at the small former Tacoma Tower Books which I would love to write myself - being a part of it and all.