Bookstore Spotlight — Cottage Book Shop

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Bookstores attract the right kind of folk. Good people like A.J. and Amelia. And I like talking about books with people who like talking about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. I like how a new book smells, too.
Officer Lambiase, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry 

Lots of people retire and move to a new home, slowing down and enjoying newfound leisure time. When Sue Boucher’s husband retired last year, the Bouchers sold their house in the Chicago suburbs  and settled in a place they’ve vacationed in for years — Leelenau County, Michigan. The move also meant that Sue had to sell her beloved store, Lake Forest Book Store. Sue enjoys gardening, knitting, hiking, biking, spending time with friends and family — and of course, reading — but she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the book business.

“I never thought I’d fall in love with another bookstore,” Sue said, but fall in love she did — with one of the most charming bookstores I’ve ever seen, the Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Housed in a log cabin that was built in 1920 and moved from its original location to its current one in 1998, the shop is packed with a wide assortment of carefully chosen books — plus puzzles, games,toys, and cards. The walls are covered with the work of local artists. Sue bought the store in the spring of 2014 from longtime owner Barbara Siepker, who was planning to retire. (Her vision of retirement apparently didn’t involve running a small business!)

11824925_10153528233884803_6439038564801579186_n“Summer is our version of the Christmas season,” Sue said, when I mentioned how busy the store was on a Monday afternoon. Glen Arbor overflows with visitors and summer residents from June through August, with a tiny local population the rest of the year. Last week — which should have been one of the store’s busiest all year —  a storm of Biblical proportions with 100 mph winds hit the town, downing hundreds of trees and causing power outages for nearly a week. The Cottage stayed open almost every day, conducting business with old-fashioned technology (lanterns) and modern technology (iPhones).

9781908313867I had fun “working” as a guest bookseller in the shop for a few hours on Monday, which meant that I put on an official Cottage Book Shop apron and walked around the store straightening shelves and chatting with customers.  I recommended some of my favorites, and  — since I know the alphabet — I was able to help a few people locate specific titles. A constant trail of families entered the store, looking for summer reading for both parents and children. “This is my favorite time to read,” a woman told me as she picked out a stack of paperbacks. “Every summer we come here for two weeks and I come here right away to stock up. It’s my first stop right after the grocery store.”

FullSizeRender-1What’s popular right now at the Cottage Book Shop? Bestsellers include A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman), The Red Notebook (Antoine Laurain), Leaving Time (Jodi Picoult), The Martian (Andy Weir), Ordinary Grace (William Kent Kreuger), Lisette’s List (Susan Vreeland), The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown), and My Salinger Year (Joanna Rakoff) — all great choices for vacation reading. Local interest books are big sellers as well, including gorgeous photography books (Ice Caves of Leelenau), children’s picture books (Petoskey Stone Soup) and field guides (Birds of Michigan).

9780143127666Not surprisingly, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman has been selling briskly — and Sue had a great turnout for a screening of the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird the night before the release of Go Set a Watchman. I haven’t read it yet . . . unfortunately, I’ve read so many articles about the book that I can’t imagine enjoying it. Too many preconceived notions can spoil the excitement of starting a brand new book. I did enjoy, and wholeheartedly recommend, Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird Next Door, a delightful account of Mills’s friendship with Harper Lee and her sister.

I suggested The Mockingbird Next Door for the September selection for the Cottage’s Book of the Month Club. (But maybe it’s not a good suggestion — maybe everyone has heard enough about Harper Lee?) Every month, club members receive a paperback in the mail. Sue and her staff try to pick high-quality books with broad appeal. The August choice is  a wonderful one — Neverhome, by Laird Hunt, a lyrical novel about a farmer’s wife who leaves her husband behind to fight for the Union in the Civil War.

I can’t wait to go back to the Cottage Book Shop — maybe in the winter, when the little log cabin will be buried in snow? I’d love to hear which bookstores you’ve visited on your vacations.

5 Books NOT To Give This Holiday Season

Books for the holiday book drive in Glen Arbor, Michigan
Books for the holiday book drive in Glen Arbor, Michigan

A book is a gift you can open again and again.  Garrison Keillor

Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them.  Neil Gaiman

Garrison Keillor and Neil Gaiman both state what we booksellers believe with all our hearts: books make the best gifts. But books, like all gifts, can be tricky to choose. There’s no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to books. We all have books sitting on our shelves that were given with the best of intentions — and that we will never open, much less again and again. I feel a little twinge of guilt every time I see the bright yellow cover of Heaven is for Real in my stack. I know I’m never going to read it . . . but it was a gift, and I can’t bring myself to donate it to the library book sale. That book isn’t my cup of tea, but at least it’s not insulting. I have a friend who actually received a book on weight loss as a birthday present. (She’s not overweight, but which is worse? Giving a diet book to someone who’s overweight or someone who’s not?)

Besides diet books, what else should you think hard about giving?

  1. Books you think a person SHOULD read. Example: grandparents who buy beautiful hardcover editions of beloved classics for teenagers. Pride and Prejudice makes a lovely gift IF you have an Austen-loving granddaughter. But if you have a granddaughter who loves YA dystopian novels, best to stick with those.
  2. Cookbooks; they should only be given to people who actually like to cook. (Exceptions: newlyweds or recent graduates. Everyone needs some basic cookbooks. They may not be thrilled to receive them, but they need them.) I used to interrogate men who bought cookbooks for their wives: “Are you sure she wants this? Wouldn’t she rather have a nice juicy novel?” I have softened over the years and now I just mind my own business and wrap the cookbook, knowing it can always be exchanged.
  3. Goodnight Moon. Every new baby receives multiple copies of Goodnight Moon. Pick a lesser-known favorite, and if the baby has siblings, choose a brand-new picture book. Chances are the family already has the classics.
  4. The big blockbuster of the season that everyone is reading (or says they’re reading) and that is popular with both genders and all age groups. Three years ago, that book was Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs. Many of those books came right back to the store in January. I admit I was one of those who jumped on the Steve Jobs bandwagon; I don’t think my friends returned the books, but you never know . . .
  5. Books that carry a lot of emotional weight. Gift books should come with no strings attached. Maybe it’s just me, but my heart sinks when I receive a book with an inscription. Although apparently not everyone feels that way. A couple of years ago, a young man came into our store and returned a book on Bob Dylan he’d received for Christmas. It wasn’t until after he’d left the store that I noticed the inscription: “Dear _____ , Since we are both Dylan fans, I know you will love this book as much as I did. Enjoy! XXOO _____”.
1. Books work straight away. No batteries required. 2. Books are easy to wrap. We wrap for you! 3. You don't have to fret about size or color. 4. There's a book for every kind of person. :) 5. You can do all your shopping in one place . . . here!!!
1. Books work straight away. No batteries required.
2. Books are easy to wrap. We wrap for you!
3. You don’t have to fret about size or color.
4. There’s a book for every kind of person. 🙂
5. You can do all your shopping in one place . . . here!!!

Working in a bookstore over the holidays is a lot of fun; it’s rewarding helping people choose books for people they care about. It can also be challenging, especially when we are asked to find books for a nephew who doesn’t like to read;  a father-in-law who is extremely conservative and likes large print; and a mother who likes mysteries that aren’t too violent. But, as our chalkboard says, there’s a book for every kind of person.

My favorite gift book this season is By the Book: Writers on 9781627791458Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review. It’s a collection of columns from the “By the Book” column that appears in the Book Review every Sunday. Authors  are asked a series of questions, such as “What book is on your nightstand right now?”, “What was the last book that made you cry?”, and “What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?” About 70 authors are included — everyone from  David Sedaris to Carl Hiaasen to J.K. Rowling. As the editor, Pamela Paul, says:

We all want to know what other people are reading. We peer at strangers’ book covers on an airplane and lean over their e-books on the subway . . . When I launched By the Book in The New York Times Book Review, it was an effort to satisfy my own genuine, insatiable desire to know what others — smart people, well-read people, people who are good writers themselves — were reading in their spare time. The idea was to stimulate a conversation about books, but one that took place at a more exalted level than the average water cooler chat. That meant starting big, and for me that meant David Sedaris. Who wouldn’t want to know which books he thinks are funny? Or touching or sad or just plain good?

In coming up with the questions for David Sedaris, and then for those who followed, I decided to keep some consistent — What book would you recommend to the president to read? — while others would come and go. If you’re going to find out what books John Grisham likes, you’ve got to ask about legal thrillers. When talking to P.J. O’Rourke, you want to know about satire.

Ann Patchett, who is one of the interview subjects in By the Book, is also the owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville. Her store has a wonderful blog, and today’s post (“What Book People Give When They Give Books: The Ultimate Holiday Guide”) lists some spot-on gift-giving suggestions for the readers on your list.  The clever categories include “for the party host, a better gift than a bottle of wine”, “for anyone who’s looking for a book as good as Unbroken“, “for the picky, discriminating book addict who has already read everything on earth”, and “for anyone whose soul is not made of ice and rocks”.

Happy Black Friday — stay home with a good book! If you’re lucky enough to have an independent bookstore nearby, tomorrow (Small Business Saturday) is a great day to stop by for some recommendations.