littlest gets the keys to the castle, uh-gain

We read to know we’re not alone.

~ William Nicholson, Shadowlands

Yesterday littlest love and I ventured out into a light rainfall for books and Betty’s Burgers.  I know.  What a perfect thing to do on a rainy Friday afternoon, right?  Well, when we get to the children’s section of our local independent bookstore, she notices a slim tall glass case with heaps of special books inside, books she loves like the hardbound collector’s editions from the fictitious Dr. Ernest Drake, renowned 19th century dragonologist.  These are beautiful oversized, jewel-encrusted books with pages of detailed “scholarly” notes, unearthed diaries and handwritten letters tucked into wax-sealed envelopes.  Pencil drawings and laboratory specimens like dragon scales and gilded unicorn hairs.  Imagine flipping through Professor Indiana Jones’ archeological notebooks and you’ve got the idea.  I have absolutely no clue what the books are about, but they are beautiful to look at and exquisite fun for imaginative children.

Littlest wants to see one of the books in the case, but there’s a notice taped to the glass that says, please ask a clerk for assistance.  So I send her off to ask the schlumpy shaggy man behind the information desk.  He’s casually talking to a woman with long silver hair in stretch pants and flip flops who looks as if she’s stopping by to say hello on her way to yoga or the organic farm.  I catch myself caught up in a Portlandia tableau as they both pause from their peaceful tête à tête to look down at her and smile.  The clerk moves out from behind the counter but continues to stretch his conversation with the woman into a reluctant schlumpy goodbye all while following littlest over to the case where he perfunctorily opens the door, takes the treasure out, and places it into her hands.  I’m caught up in this tranquil exchange, the gentle couple, the ease with which he moved from the desk to the cabinet and without any effort or even a glance helps my littlest love, when just like that!  Just as he turns to shuffle back toward his information desk a woman swoops down from out of nowhere and snatches up the book!  It was the clerk who caught me cheating!  It was HER!  Oh, no!  I thought.  What did we do now?  I’m here to buy books from you, the independent bookseller.  I promise!  No more Amazon.  Well this lady, she’s very calm and without a trace of humor, and people like that, you know, they scare me.  Sure, she has gobs of book recommendations, but all that thinking and judging going on underneath that center-parted mop of gray-brown curls.  Behind the blank stare.  We’re screwed.  She now has the treasure and looks down and says to littlest in a condescending voice, You know, these books are VERY special.  They’re collector’s items and not for looking at in the store.  People who buy them want them to be in perfect condition, so I will hold it for you and show you some of the pages.  Would you like that [little girl]?  Bwah Ha Ha Ha.  I knew in an instant, this was going to be good.

photo 3The book was called Monsterology and contains “scholarly” research on mythical creatures.  The persnickety clerk begins to flip a few pages for littlest, who starts in on her gently by recognizing just one or two of the so-called monsters.  Oh, is that a Kraken? she demurs.  The clerk needs to look and read a few lines before nodding her head.  Ooh, the Chimera . . . and look, littlest says pointing to another page, there’s a Hippogriff.  I watch the clerk take in littlest’s slight size and ask her what grade she’s in.  They chat about dragons a bit, and I can suddenly feel the molecules quicken between them as the clerk decides to walk us over to some dragon books she thinks littlest might like reading, but unfortunately she’s read them already.  With marked determination, the clerk adjusts her tact and heads for another shelf, maybe you’d be interested in this book?  It’s a slim illustrated anthology of Greek myths.   Well, littlest says trying not to hurt her feelings, we’re actually reading The Odyssey right now.

I could be dramatic and say the edges of the room blurred.  The din of the bookshop fell silent.  A beam of angelic light burst forth from the heavens and danced on their faces.  But they just stood facing each other there in the aisle surrounded on three sides by walls of books.  With all hint of condescension removed the clerk asks her, and what translation are you reading?  Robert Fagles, I offer from a few steps back, feeling a little self-conscious but loving it all.  Oh, that’s a good one.  I usually recommend the Fitzgerald for young readers, but Fagles is very good.  She pushes me aside with a returned gaze to littlest and asks her, how do you like the language in Fagles?  “I think it’s really poetic,” she says.  Now I’m starting to get used to what happens next, but it never ceases to make me smile.  The clerk takes the Monsterology book she had been keeping in her hands and says to her, I think you understand how truly special this book is.  I’m going to let you take it and look at it.  I think there’s an open bench over there under the window, and when you’re done if you decide you don’t want to buy it, just bring it back to me.

Immortals are never alien to one another.
~ Homer, The Odyssey

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  1. I haven’t been reading your blog for very long, but I have really loved each post that I’ve taken the time to click through via twitter. I love the way you write, and this is an excellent example. Your story is so engaging, your use of language so rich. One of the things that shines right through in this post is your trust in your child– that she will be able to fight this battle herself. What a lovely thing to read as I munched on my granola this morning.
    xo Lisa

    • Thanks, Lisa, for your kind words. I am so happy to hear from you. I know we follow each other on twitter, but I’ve been meaning to tell you I picked up a parenting literary mag called Stealing Time at AWP-Seattle this year (a few months ago), and there was a lovely essay in there from you! I recognized your name from twitter and from the Write Alm gang and thought, “What a small world.” Nice we can support one another’s writing! -rebecca.

      • Aw, thank you Rebecca. Such a shame that Stealing Time is no longer being published. I was really delighted to be included in their first issue though and I smiled when I read that you came across my piece.

        Yes, it is good to support one another’s writing. I’ve just added you to my feedly reader so hope to keep on top of your posts now. xo Lisa

  2. Did you buy the book?

    • Of course! That lady may be a little persnickety, but she sure knows how to sell a book. She gets me every time!

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