Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Trip to Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

As folks who read this blog know, my mom and sister live in Worcester, Massachusetts. This has given me the chance to visit a number of bookstores in the Boston area, from Brookline Booksmith, which was only a few blocks from my mom's last home, to Papercuts J.P in Jamaica Plain, which is near some of my friends. I usually take the commuter train between cities, but on a few trips of late, I've had to rent a car, which gave me even more opportunity to explore.

Over time, I've been talking to my friend Joan at Odyssey Bookshop, and discussing the idea of traveling west from Worcester over to South Hadley to see the store. Visiting the store has been part of my grand plan for years - we have shared a lot of authors over the years (Elinor Lipman being a favorite*), and have had nice but short chats at Book Expo and Winter Institute. The idea of a visit began to make even more sense when Odyssey switched to our inventory system, as we'd starting corresponding more about tips and tricks for best using the program. And when a recent visit was planned where my sister would be out of town, I had the time block to make this work.

Much like the WellsleyBooks, which I visited on my last road trip (and bought my first copy of A Man Called Ove as a gift for my sister, little did I know how that book and its author would be a highlight of 2016), functions in the shadow of Wellsley College, Odyssey is a stone's throw from Mount Holyoke College. I am slowly completing my tour of the old Seven Sisters - I think Vassar is the only school I haven't yet visited. It is also part of the Five College Consortium, along with Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and U Mass Amherst. 

Odyssey Bookshop was started by Romeo Grenier in 1963. It's now part of a complex of shops, with the buildings owned by the college, and the bookstore run by Romeo's daughter Joan. The store has been known to have a particularly strong author event program, and it was a pioneer in developing first editions club. Odyssey functions as Mount Holyoke's textbook store, and also provide art supplies for the campus art program. It is a very nice space, spread over two floors, with some particularly wonderful displays, like a "big" book display in the kids area, which also had a particularly delightful castle play area, made possible by a James Patterson grant, by the way. 

I was so taken by one display that I came back completely appropriated their idea. Their lemonade display was inspired by Beyonce's current album, featuring African American women writers and heroines. We duplicated it at Boswell. I came up with a shortlist of newer titles that I thought would be appropriate. Teasha created the display and added her own suggested titles to the mix, while that Peter (along with Olivia V.) made the paper lemons to decorate it. Teasha is convinced that if we keep posting things about it, Beyonce's people will eventually retweet something. I'll let her dream big!

I've been having my own lemonade summer, exploring the work of contemporary black women writers. I started with Angela Flournoy's The Turner House, which you can read more about elsewhere on the blog.  We're still recommending the book to other groups, and it just seems I'm always coming across folks in the store to recommend it to, such as a former colleague and her partner, long resettled in the Southwest, but back to see family and go to the Aretha Franklin concert at the Riverside.

I've already read two great novels coming out this fall that have a lot of buzz. Brit Bennett's The Mothers has a nice quote from Flournoy and is a coming-of-age novel set in San Diego with a lot of buzz. And I also just finished Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn, her first adult novel in twenty years. I'm excited that Woodson is coming to Milwaukee for a cosponsored event at Milwaukee Public Library's Centennial Hall on Friday, October 21, 6:30 pm. When you hear how amazing that event week is, you might want to plan a vacation here.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, because I was the one on vacation, in Massachusetts, no less. And my official reason for visiting (aside from dinner with Joan and her husband Jon, and coffee with our old bookseller colleague Stacie, now living in the pioneer valley and a sales rep for Ingram), was to provide a little help with the Ibid ie system. So Joan and I played with some screens and I answered some questions. I gave her a few hints on returns, and she showed me a glitch where the change you have to give the customer disappears from the screen just when you need it. That really should get fixed. I'll send a message to the friendly folks at IRT. 

I browsed the staff recs and Joan started telling me about a local author's book that came out last fall called Trace: Memory, History, Race, and The American Landscape. Lauret Savoy, who is a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke, has drawn from her areas of academic interest and combined that with essays on race, ethnicity, identity, that together also functions as a memoir. Of course I bought the book (it could go on our lemonade table, which I was already planning out in my head) and read it almost immediately, which is honestly unusual for me when I do my bookstore buying. Unless it's for an upcoming book club, the books I buy at bookstores (and I try to buy a book at any bookstore I like, unless I got to a whole bunch in one day) wind up getting put on the "one day I'll get around to it" pile. 

Immediately I thought the book was very much in the vein of Terry Tempest Williams, but perhaps that was because there was a big Terry Tempest Williams quote on the front of the book. The integration of Savoy's interests makes for fascinating reading. So an essay on Arizona looks at the United States and how it was able to take (and in one case, buy) land that once belonged to Mexico. There are pieces inspired by Madeline Island in Wisconsin and  Boley, Oklahoma, a plantation in South Carolina, and the pivotal moment in her upbringing when the family uprooted from Southern California and moved back to Washington, DC. Each essay integrates nature, history, personal narrative, and cultural criticism. It was an excellent recommendation and what I liked most about it was that it was a little piece of Joan and the store to take home.

What a wonderful afternoon I had at the Odyssey Bookshop! There is nothing like talking with another bookseller about, well, everything. For booksellers, it's generally feast or famine - we mostly operate solo but then we go to a convention and there's an embarrassment of riches, so many wonderful booksellers and if we're lucky, we get to talk to a handful of them for a little bit. It's never enough.

And finally, I just want to note that I hope the Pioneer Valley folks understand what a great and special place they have and support it accordingly. Go buy something now.

*Her new novel is called On Turpentine Lane and it's out next February!

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