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Indie bookstore customers are the best.
BCE (before coronavirus epidemic) I travelled widely, following the “busman’s holiday” model of sightseeing: show me the books. One of my favorite stops over the past ten years has been City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco, a biannual destination when visiting grandchildren. I became so familiar with the store favorites, that I even had a staff soulmate (don’t worry, my husband Arthur knows) whom I have never met. “Paul” liked the same books I did. When he picked titles I didn’t know about, I’d write them down, each time buying at least one to be a good bookshop citizen.
So you can imagine my horror when I read that City Lights was not just closing due to Covid-19, but going out of business. The first all-paperback store, given birth by the Beat Movement, started by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, was dying. I spent several days mourning my lost second literary home. No more “Paul Recommends.” No more surprise treats prompting me to order a new gem for the Ivy store favorites shelf. And then I saw it. In the corner of my screen. The GoFundMe page. Started by City Lights co-owner Elaine Katzenberger requesting $300,000 to keep its doors open and her staff of 20 paid and health-insured, safe and secure at home. Within six days about 10,000 of City Light’s best friends donated over $474,000. And counting. Don’t you just love those indie bookstore customers? I do.
Maybe next time we go I’ll introduce myself.
On to the blurbs!
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
Where is home? The answer may well resonate for those of us who cannot leave ours, except via the talent of a fearless writer like Zhang. Gorgeous sentences gild an immigrant family’s resolute search during the waning days of the Gold Rush in California. The story opens with two orphaned adolescents wandering for weeks, looking for the perfect place to bury their decomposing father strapped to the back of a stolen
horse, with pieces of dad dropping en route. Without squinting too hard, the observant reader will detect shadows of Faulkner and Steinbeck repurposed for fresh eyes on the
mythology of the American West. This one sits at the top of my stay-at-home vicarious thrills reading list. Hold on to your (cowboy) hat.
Actress: A Novel by Anne Enright
The title says it all. The coruscating precision of Enright’s prose sent me to Wikipedia to confirm the details of her fictional Irish actress’ CV, just in case she was real. She wasn’t. Now that’s writing. Ranging from the 1970s to the present, from stages in Ireland and England to Hollywood, this is a portrait of the fraught love between a driven mother and her adoring audience of a daughter. No matter how difficult the relationship, there is an
abiding kindness that tempers the grief and regret that in lesser hands could sink this story. Enright offers us her lovely mother-daughter gift exactly when we need it. If you’re lucky enough to have distance-free access to her, hug your mother. I’ll have to wait.