Serendipitous Book Shopping

July 23, 2007 at 3:58 pm 10 comments

As I said earlier, I’ve just returned from nine technology-free days. I took a small suitcase full of books (did you think I was kidding?) and read fewer of them than I had hoped, but it was all right because I was doing something marginally more important than reading: living.

(Word to the wise: your average book-filled suitcase, when left on the floor of an invisibly leaking tent, will not prevent your books from incurring water damage.)

I do have (counting) three reviews to do, and those will be forthcoming in the next few days. In the meantime, though, I hope you’ll enjoy some vignettes from our trip. Here’s one; there’s at least one more on its way!

We are eating fish and chips outside a little corner restaurant on San Juan Island, and next door to us is a two-story building with colors that pop cheerfully in the rainy weather and the word BOOKS in foot-tall red letters cascading down the side. These islands are full of bookshops of every variety (excepting “big box”), but something about this one catches my eye. I walk over, smell the exuberant violet clematis blooms, and step inside Serendipity Books.

It’s an explosion of books, a labyrinth of books, a whirling nor’wester of books. It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. Books floor to ceiling, tucked in corners, crowded among one another, from the front door to the glassed-in back porch and, for all I know, under the floorboards and in the rafters. The shopkeeper sounds British and knows exactly where every book in the shop is hiding. There’s an entire wall of fine editions, another wall of books labeled “Serendipitous Discoveries.” I think of my own fine editions and serendipitous discoveries, gathering dust in my home office, and smile as I finger the bindings. The shop smells wonderful – like leather and aging paper, book mold, slightly damp people, old house, tea. And there’s a vibration to it. The books are resonating with ghosts of their past owners and future readers – they lean on one another, push, eager to catch my eye.

While I browse the fiction shelves, I overhear the shopkeeper speaking with a customer. He is tall, Canadian, and smiling like a man who has accomplished something. In his hands he clutches a white book with a mostly-plain cover: Mason Williams Reading Matter. I gather from their conversation that he’d lost his much-loved copy decades before and had been searching for that specific edition in every used bookstore in his path since. Here, in this winsome bibliorphanage, he’d found what he was looking for. He makes his purchase, thanking the shopkeeper, and exits in a peal of doorknob bells.

Fifteen minutes later I am standing with a stupid grin on my face somewhere between books about art and about pets when I realize the Canadian has returned. In one hand he is waving Reading Matters, and the other is dancing counterpoint to his ebullient speech. I am not the only person in the shop moving closer to the cash register to shamelessly eavesdrop.

The book, it is revealed, is his book. Not just the book he was looking to replace – his actual, personal copy. His name is handwritten on the first page. He’d lost it in Washington D.C.. Thirty-eight years later, on a trip from his new home in Canada, he wandered into one of a thousand little bookshops on a Washington (state) island, and man and book were reunited.

This is a magical bookshop. The shopkeeper is unruffled, almost as if this is a regular occurrence. It’s clear that she understands why the bookshop bears its name.

I leave with a little hardcover, found face-out near the doorway, and a paperback translation of Lord of the Flies with English on verso and Korean on recto. I don’t like Lord of the Flies, but I love this book. The hardcover is called The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, and by the end of the day I have consumed it, cover to cover.


Entry filed under: Living, Reading, Shopping.

I’m Going to be an Early Reviewer! Regarding Harry Potter 7 (No Spoilers)

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lee Kottner  |  July 23, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    What a great story! It almost seems like his book was following him, all these years, and they finally caught up to each other. Sniff! That makes me so happy!

  • 2. Leslea  |  July 23, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    That is wonderful!!!


  • 3. BookGirl  |  July 23, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Finding bookstores like these is one of the wonders of travel, isn’t it? And what a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it. Coincidentally, I checked to see whether the “Mason Williams” of the story is the same musician “Mason Williams” who had a big hit with “Classical Gas” in the 60s and appeared often on The Smothers Brothers t.v. series during that time (not that you’d remember any of this). Turns out it is.

    Just a minor footnote to your tale.

  • 4. silverfoot  |  July 23, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    brill. bloody brill. Kurt Vonegut WEPT that’s brill.

    and for the record, if i ever satisfy my dream of opening a second-hand bookshop, i shall be certain to call it “The Bibliorphanage.”

    (i’ll give credit, of course.)

  • 5. Bybee  |  July 23, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    What a terrific story!

  • 6. LadyLibellule  |  July 23, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    That reminds me of the the movie, “Serendipity”. The character even wrote her name in the book.

    That story is weird… but very cool.

  • 7. Erin  |  July 24, 2007 at 9:49 am

    I’ve just nominated you for the Rockin’ Girl Blogger Award 🙂

  • 8. Lisa  |  July 24, 2007 at 10:40 am

    That is the best book story I have ever read! Thanks for sharing.

  • 9. Bonnie Jacobs  |  July 26, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    Silverfoot and I noticed the same word in your great story:
    bibliorphanage is a wonderful word! Thanks for the word and the story.

  • 10. 3M  |  July 27, 2007 at 7:31 am

    Great story!


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