I read once that Seattle Washington is the most literate city in the US. The writer described a community of authors and readers living together in the perfect world, a place where reading is important and bookstores cherished. However, I propose that the person who wrote the article has never visited Maine. If Seattle is the most literate city, Maine is the most literate state.
My husband and I love the adventuresome route, an off-the-beaten-path journey free of tractor trailers and bothersome billboards. While traveling in Maine we encountered what I can only describe as reader (and author) heaven. Everywhere I looked someone had converted extra space into a bookstore. There were bookstores in barns, bookstores in art galleries, and a used bookstores in what looked like an avid reader’s garage. In that particular store I sensed her books only went home with worthy readers.
Admittedly, my husband and I didn’t have much time to plan our trip. Had pre-planning been possible I would have visited even more bookstores during our stay. Our cussed home improvement slate project lingered, consuming most of our time. Mercer University Press accepted my next book: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches (Thank you God, and Marc Jolley). While I waited for the grout to set and rain clouds to pass I printed, polished and assembled the manuscript. So the dream trip to Maine my husband and I wanted became a “grab and go” trip. We would plan in the car. I knew I wanted to attend the Lobster Festival held in Rockland, Maine, anything else we would figure out when we arrived. After spending a few hours at the festival, my husband and I walked the streets of downtown Rockland. There we found three, count them THREE, book stores all on the same street.
This was common practice. In Maine, as in the rest of the country, there are enough readers to go around. For some stupid reason (sorry Mom, I know you told me to never use that word), bookstores in the South are in stiff competition with each other. Again, let me stress, there are enough readers to go around. In Maine, each store had a specialty and let me tell you, business is booming. Everywhere I looked parents led children into stores and actually asked, “Do you want to go buy a new book today?”
Are you paying attention Southern Mammas? Children were NOT plugged into electronic gadgets, they were poured into books. In the middle of tourist season children weren’t whiney and ill-mannered, they were full of joy, rested, polite. Everywhere I looked people sat, heads down, deep inside the magical world of the book they were reading. They were riding the reading rainbow.
Dear Ones, if you haven’t gathered by now I am head over heart in love with Maine and her people. IN LOVE! Allow me a shameless plug, please send me a friend request on Facebook, and please subscribe to my blog. I love hearing from you. I want to meet new Maine friends and I hope my words offer a glimpse into the true pulse of your state. And yes, if you feel so inclined, you can order my book through my website. (Sadly, it is currently out of print and Indie bookstores can’t order it for you, but I am working to remedy that).
Now, it’s time to talk about bookstores. Let’s start with Belfast, Maine. Belfast boasts a population of around 6,600 people. To put the population in perspective, my daughter’s high school has 2250 students. There were four bookstores (that I found) within walking distance to downtown proper. Unfortunately, I only had time to pop into two of them. Old Professor’s Book Shop is the kind of place where you want to pour a cognac and snuggle into a leather chair. The store has the feel of a luxurious library with wall to wall wood and books so special you can feel goodness pouring from the pages.
Bella Books is a precious little store filled with carefully selected books. There were neat little sitting areas where you could hide away, open a book and fall into another world. Belfast is known as a “City of Books,” perhaps that is why I felt so at home. Please, I beg you, City of Belfast, I must come to your book festival next year. My visit was heaven. I am at home when I am walking your streets.
Hello Hello books is a funky little store in Rockland, Maine that is filled to the brim with bright lights and lots of love. This is the kind of place where you sit where you want, read books, buy books and repeat the process to infinity and beyond. If you’re in a bad mood, the workers at Hello Hello are on a mission to bring a smile to your face.
Still on Main Street in Rockland Maine, I became enamored with George Parks owner of Door Yard Books. Had their been room in my car I would have brought him home. Kathy Patrick (who is the Queen of books in a tiny little town called Jefferson, Texas) when I found out that he was a Texas man I could have hugged his neck. He will be heading to the GREAT state of Texas around November. According to George, his customers prefer hardback copies. Door Yard Books is a wall-to-wall, basement to attic nirvana for avid readers. George doesn’t need a website, or computer, he recalls his stock from memory. While I was easily overstimulated by a spectacular variety of used books, I observed that he knows where every single book is located. While I purchased my books, he told me something about the author. I had found two southern authors and he immediately spoke of them as if they were blood kin. Mr. Parks knows books which is why he gave a knowing nod when my husband purchased Build the New Instant Boats: Take Plywood Cut To Shape Smear on Glue Drive Nails Stir Paint and Presto!-You have Built An Instant Boat. Quite possibly the longest book title ever and yes, my beloved is hammering away in our basement as I type.
In Seal Harbor we encountered a store for which there are no words. Only pictures will do it justice, and even then, my attempt will fail. The store is eclectic, unique and I think were I to spend a couple days lingering inside the four walls, my IQ would jump. The Naturalist’s Notebook offers classes that expand the mind, teaches you to draw, paint, think, experience life outside of the box. Seal Harbor is a town that boasts a smidge over 2,000 residents.
Notice the trend here folk? These towns are tiny speck on the map places where if you sneeze while driving you’ll miss something, yet bookstores serve an important purpose. There are subdivisions in Atlanta with more residents than these towns, yet these brick and mortar buildings hold the town together. The towns I mentioned aren’t dried up, boarded up towns, they are THRIVING pieces of America. In Maine, bookstores, build communities. One can almost hear the planning board members saying, “What we need here is a bookstore and while we’re at it, let’s place it in our historic district.” So I must ask, why doesn’t the same ring true in the South?
By the way, I only saw one Walmart the entire time I was in Maine. No Target. No Big Lots. No Rite-Aid or CVS on every corner. That my friends is a good thing. Atlanta has overdeveloped every durn’d thing and in the process not only destroyed the environment by ripping up trees, they have desscimated the very thing we crave, a sense of place and a feeling of belonging. For that, we should be ashamed. To the people of Maine, I miss you. I can’t wait to see you again. There is something extraordinary about towns where books outnumber the residents.
As always, I welcome your comments.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes and Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release: Farming, Friends & Friend Bologna Sandwiches. She loves hearing from you. Visit her website at reneawinchester.com or follow her on Twitter at Reneawinchester