Sunday, September 23, 2018

Interview with a Bookstore

I'm stealing this idea. I'll be honest. I don't know where I saw it first. Maybe something on LitHub, the great aggregate of literary news. But wherever it was, I'm offering credit their way. 

The idea was to interview a bookstore. 

My approach is a bit different than the one I first saw. My questions are not the same. My purpose is different. The original idea was to offer insight into the workings of a book selling business. Mine is to highlight one of Chicago's best literary destinations. This is not hyperbole. The Book Cellar in the Lincoln Square neighborhood  is a gem, not only in Chicago, but it stands alongside some of the top book selling venues in America, and has been named one of Chicago's best places to write. 

So, here we go. An interview with The Book Cellar. (Owner Suzy Takacs)

Q: What's your favorite section of the store?
A: The cookbook section and the picture book section. It's a tie. 

Q: What is the bookstore's specialty?
A: I would describe us as a general bookstore. Our bestselling sections are literary fiction, no-fiction, and board books. 

Q: Who is your store's favorite regular?
A: Bill comes by several days a week and always has something interesting to say about the book world. He clips The New Yorker cartoons for us or Chicago Tribune articles. He reads a crazy number of books and was very quick to finish our store's reading challenge.

Q: What's the biggest surprise about running a bookstore?
A: The physical store itself. The mechanics of it are such a tool. From light bulbs to leaks, to HVAC to refrigeration, to people driving into our sidewalk cafe, all of it is a constant expensive and problem to deal with .

Q: Tell us about your most memorable author event.
A: I think there are two events that will never leave my mind. Ray Bradbury joined our book club by speaker phone. He had not done any speaking events for a long time, and he and all of us became very teary. The second was the pleasure of hosting Studs Terkel. He was a remarkable person and character of Chicago. 

Q: What is children's book you would want adults to read?
A: Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers and Owen and Mzee by Crag Hatkoff. And also Wonder by RJ Palacios.

Q: How does your store build community?
A: By hosting story time and local author events. Really all events in general. From a spelling bee to Independent Bookstore Day to working with the Chamber of Commerce. They are all reasons for us to be part of the community our store lives in and part of the literary community. 

Last year, Suzy Takacs and The Book Cellar won the Spirit Award from the Chicago Writers Association for its support of Chicago writers. 

The Book Cellar is at 4736 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

To Be Alone

It's been said that writers are loners, angsty artists who seek solitude. We are weirdos who want to be left alone, by ourselves, away from everyone and everything.

Okay. That's fair. And somewhat true. I think.

If you write, do you like being alone? Are you a solitude junkie?

I like aloneness. I'm comfortable with it. Always have been. Too much stimulus can be overwhelming. I can't think. I can't breathe. But that doesn't mean I always like to write in solitude.

I've written here before about the shed I have on my property, the writing space, built solely for that purpose. Built for me alone, to be alone to write. And I love it. Love what it represents and how it functions for me and my work. I am tucked away in a small space, surrounded by books and art. But yet there are times I want to be in the middle of life, not away from it. So, I write in coffee shops, busy one with the whir of the espresso machine, the clatter of ceramic cups, and constant human conversations blanketing the space. But I'm there solely for the sounds of life, not the acceptance of others.

In Rilke's famous correspondence to a budding writer, Letters to a Young Poet, he advises the new artist to stop seeking adoration or affirmation. Never, he says, ask anyone if a work of art is any good. He says the answers are not outside yourself, they are inside. And with this, comes more confirmation that a writer must be one who craves solitude, where he can contemplate his work alone, without the influences of others. The writer, Rilke believed, must find his way through this with his own compass, not the compass of another. 

For years, early in my writing career, I would carry Rilke's book around with me in my work bag. I'd read passages on the commuter train or in my office. I would pull it out when I had doubts, when I needed to tell myself my writing, whatever I was working on, was worthy. With the help of Rilke, I was able to believe in my own art without affirmation from outside, and I was able to accept the aloneness that comes with that process.

Rainer Maria Rilke

So, yes, writers like to be alone. But there's a good reason for this. If we are uncertain, unsure of our own artistry at times—and we are, like anyone who creates—then we need the solitude in order to work things out with ourselves, for we are the only ones we need to convince.

Tell your alone stories. Why is aloneness important to your writing? Or is it? Share.