BING BONG! The electronic syllables of a surveillance system sound my transgression. I enter The Book Shoppe in Grangeville, Idaho. Hair and shoulders up, ruffed by the warning I’ve tripped, I look for watchers watching me. No one is here.
The electronic chords make me think about the pleasures of entering bookstores. I like to enter quietly. The proprietor behind the counter might nod or quietly say hello when I come in. I like bookshops that are quiet enough to hear jazz or Bach playing quietly, unobtrusively in the background. I like the delight in seeing a broad table arrayed with books just beyond the door. The BING BONG! throws me off.
Bells fit a bookshop. If the proprietor wants to have time in the back room between customers, then a few bells on the door seem appropriate for a bookshop. Why even a string strung from the door along the ceiling, hung here and there with a few bells, to reach into the back room where more bells could jingle, signaling the arrival of a browser or even a customer, would be a welcoming sound in a book store. These would be light tinging dinging tinkling bells, nothing even approaching a clangorous cow bell would be reasonable.
The proprietress, a smiling woman who has fair hair, comes from the back. “May I help you?” she asks.
“I’m just looking,” I say.
The Book Shoppe is bright, and there are not too many books. The balance that a small town bookshop must achieve is surely difficult. Investment in inventory must be limited by the low number of customers, and the selection must cater to local tastes, while also offering nuggets that lure exploratory readers. The small town in Iowa in which I grew-up had no bookshop, and a place like Grangeville’s Book Shoppe would have been a wonderful opportunity to me as a child. The few books, probably no more than 100 at one time, in my hometown's drugstore were held on a turning metal rack that stood in the front window. I began building my personal library from that metal rack’s selection. The selection in The Book Shoppe far exceeds 100 books, and someone has clearly given good attention to the titles.
The Book Shoppe has books on side shelves and two middle rows, a typical arrangement for a long store. I walk to the shelves on the right, where I find memoirs and biographies. Books of poetry are stacked on top of the shelves, as if set aside after-thoughts. I pick up an illustrated volume of Keats and flip through the pages. This would be a fun book to have, but I put it back on the shelf. A paperback copy of James Wright’s Above the River: The Collected Poems, its cover a little faded and worn from sliding against book after book for many years, gets my attention. I take it from the stack on the top of the bookcase. The Wright may have been on a shelf here nearly since its publication. A square white sticker on the cover reads “PP 6/94 $15.00.” I have another, slimmer edition of Wright’s collected poems, but I keep Above the River in my hand as I look at other books.
BING BONG! An older gentleman comes in and goes to the counter to ask the proprietress a question.
After looking through the fiction selection, I walk to the opposite side of the store, where there are books of regional history and guides. The regional history interests me, and, if I were in a serious buying mood, I would probably take a handful. A guide to hot springs in the Pacific Northwest tempts me. I thumb through it twice. Check the contents to see the locations. I begin to daydream about hot springs. I know a woman who likes hot springs. I must stop this.
My professional and book-hunter sides return when I see two copies of Ray Davis’s Idaho flora. The flora is long out-of-print, and the taxonomic nomenclature is out-of-date, but it could be a fun volume to have. The price penciled in each copy is $135.00, which is more than ten times their worth—such money would be better spent on hot springs fantasies.
I take the copy of Wright’s collected poems to the till. “Thank you,” I say to the proprietress after the transaction.