Some people remember their first kiss. I remember my first bookstore.
I was just eight. Down the street and around the corner was a house turned into a children's bookstore where I spent days nestled in cozy corners, exploring the Five Little Peppers, Little House on the Prairie and more.
Does anything press more on the memory than books? Not for me.
Since my early bookshop experience, whenever I visit a town or move to a new city, I seek first books. Not restaurants. Not even coffeeshops. First things first: I want to know a town has a center, a literary core.
When I moved to Seattle, young and broke, I was grateful for the Seattle Public Library. I loved this place, even before the fabulous renovation which came years after my departure. In those Seattle stacks I found Pablo Neruda.
In Denver, where I grew up, Tattered Cover is the legendary forerunner of independent bookstores. And in Portland, Oregon, where I was born, Powell's Books fills an entire city block. I've been lucky to know and love these models of literary independence.
But even more, I'm thrilled to find small book shops, places with little fanfare but lots of heart. When lost and wandering in what seemed a dry desert, these bookstores quenched my literary thirst:
Chickering Bookstore - Laramie, Wyoming
You've been to Laramie, right? It's an austere landscape (which, admittedly, I came to love) with large, open spaces and howling wind. Big sky but few books. Chickering was an oasis, lush, fertile and welcoming.
West Side Books - Denver, Colorado
Located in what is now Denver's hip Highland neighborhood, West Side Books was old-school cool long before it was surrounded by swank boutiques and cafes. Just like my favorite, worn-soft jeans, even with relocations and expansions the book shop has retained the comforts and charms of age. And, thanks to owner Lois Harvey (bless her trusting heart) West Side Books was where I first read my poems aloud and in public.
Paragraphs on Padre Boulevard - South Padre Island, Texas
My nightmare? A vacation of sun and laze and I have run out of books. It's happened. More than once I have trawled the grocery store selection, thumbing through B-list bodice rippers, desperate to find something to read. Thank goodness for Paragraphs, the only bookstore on Texas' South Padre Island. Crisp and clean, at just two years old, they've got new books, comfy chairs and a roster of readings.
Mari's Books and . . . - Yachats, Oregon
As evidenced by the shop name, owners Mary, Mari and Jeanine are open to possibilities. Located in downtown Yachats — an oxymoron in this remote coastal town (and my home) of just 600 full-time residents — Mari's sells gently used books, which means it's best to arrive not with a shopping list but with an open mind. Just the other day, for example, I popped in to say hello, and popped out with a handful of books I had never heard of or intended to purchase. In my book — pun intended — that's the best kind of impulse buy!
How about you — Where are you shopping? What shop marks your memory?