Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Book Tour of Florida

That’s right: I went to Florida and bought books. You can do that in Massachusetts, why go all the way to Florida? I hear you say. Well, why not? I was there anyway (Anna Maria Island, visiting family), why not do something I love?

While we hit two Goodwills and one Salvation Army between visits to the beach, I also wanted to go to a Books-A-Million, apparently the third largest bookstore chain in the country (after Barnes & Noble and Borders) although they don’t have a single store in New England. They're found mostly down south. During a visit to Bradenton, we ran across one. I’d never even seen one, so we went in.

It smelled like a Barnes & Noble. I ordered a house blend from the youthful, hirsute barista. The coffee was not great and I ended up dumping half of it out. The layout of the bookstore was flat and wide open. At first that was pleasant enough, but the signage was insufficient and I had trouble delineating sections. The stacks spread out into a linear sameness that had me popping my head up out of each row, like a prairie dog, to get my bearings.

What Books-a-Million did have, however, was a voluminous selection of bibles and other religious tomes. Liz counted six rows total. There was even a bible remainder section. In Northeast bookstores, bibles are tucked away in the back rows, sometimes under the guise of Spirituality. Here, there was a prominent display of new religious books next to the new non-fiction table, new in zombie fiction table, and finally, new in paperback fiction.

During a day trip to Siesta Key, Liz and I stopped in the business district, a main street of restaurants, bars, and shops. I was drawn in by a sign promising a used book heaven. And indeed that was the name of the shop, Used Book Heaven.

I found an early John D. MacDonald mystery The Deep Blue Goodbye, featuring his most popular character, Travis McGee. The shop keeper, a kindly old lady, mentioned that this was MacDonald’s first McGee novel. How could I resist? The Travis McGee novels are all set in Florida, so MacDonald’s books are still pretty popular down here.

During a stop at St. Armand’s Circle, an upscale shopping locale just over the bridge from Sarasota, I hit Circle Books. A small store that keeps its pond well-stocked with fiction. Because I was on vacation, and in the mood to spend decadently, I wanted to spring for a new hardcover. When I was younger I would have never considered buying a hardcover book new. So expensive. And I rarely bought a new paperback. But now I’m all about supporting the book industry.

I had just finished reading about a young author I admire, Joe Meno, in the latest Poets & Writers magazine. He has a new book out, The Great Perhaps, and I was curious, so I picked up copy.

Our time in St. Armand’s wasn’t over yet, as Liz wanted to shop in one of the many clothing boutiques. I busied myself reading the beginning of The Great Perhaps on a nearby bench. After a while my mind wandered and I took out my camera. I’m a people-watcher, and this is one of the sights I documented while I waited for my wife:

I’m not sure what’s going here. Turns out, this girl with a cat tail also had matching ears. She and her family sat next to me on the bench, eating ice cream, drinking coffee, like nothing was unusual or unique. Like it was just another day to play dress up. But I’m haunted by this girl. Maybe somebody will fill in her back story. Maybe a writer. A writer of fictions...


Cynthia Sherrick said...

Not only are most of John D. MacDonald's books set in Florida, he lived on Siesta Key! :)

Love the photo of the girl with a cat tail. Hmmm... always fun to people watch.

Robin said...

Dell -- Books-A-Million sounds like a hoot (6 rows of Bibles)! I'm getting out my suitcase today so will start thinking about books to take as well. Thanks for all the wonderful shopping suggestions. As for the girl with the bunny tail -- maybe she's your modern-day Harvey:)

Liz's Mom said...

I love your droll wit. I love this post. I did laugh out loud. I often do when your writing catches me off guard. Delightful.

Walter said...

These are great essays; maybe someday a bookful?

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Did I mention I've read almost every Travis McGee novel by John D. MacDonald? I loved them. I haven't read one in long while.... perhaps it's time to revisit Travis and the Busted Flush. ;)

Dell Smith said...

Can't go wrong with John D.
Robin, hope you packed some good reading. Of course, if you run out of stuff, mom, dad, and cyn always have something tasty to read.
Walter and Liz's mom: Thanks for reading, and for the continual support.