I’m a bookstore champion

Five hours in and just shy of a third of the way through a challenge to visit 19 bookstores in celebration of Seattle Bookstore Day last Saturday, my friend, Diana, called to check up on me.

“Are you having fun?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “It doesn’t feel right zipping through bookstores this fast.”

It wasn’t the answer I expected to hear myself give. I wanted to say, “What a question, of course I’m having fun! I’m spending the whole day in bookstores!”

But by 11 a.m., I’d already driven more than 80 miles. I’d crossed the Sound twice on ferries and was looping around Seattle to the east.

I was spending much more time in the car than in bookstores. And I hate driving. I hate traffic, I hate highways, and I really hate parking, especially if the only choice is parallel parking, which I’d already had to do twice.

In truth, my love of books was on a collision course with all those hates and I was about ready to call it quits.

“So, where do you want to meet up?” I gingerly asked Diana, hoping that some lunch and a friend would improve my spirits. I also hoped that once I hit the Seattle stores, which are closer together, I might get to spend more time with my hands on books rather than a steering wheel.

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The Seattle Mystery Bookshop has an entrance deserving of its genre. It’s tucked away, just waiting to be discovered below the sidewalk, in a building on Cherry St. and 2nd Ave.

We settled on the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, which would be bookstore number 9 for me and number one for Diana. My friend wouldn’t have time to earn the coveted “bookstore champion” title or the 25-percent discount that champions do, but just three or more stores would get her name in a raffle.

I visited two more bookstores on my own, then found Diana in the mystery stacks.

“If you get in my car, you’re committed,” I said. “I’m finishing this thing.”

“Let’s do this,” Diana agreed.

We drove on.

And we drove on, and on, and on.

I slowed down as the day wore on. As my confidence grew that I would indeed finish, I  started to linger, visit with the booksellers, and peruse their stores and excellent book selections. Diana has a stack of books to prove it. I have a few, too.

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This is Diana’s pile of books in my backseat. I swear it’s all hers.

We had a delicious sit-down dinner at Vios in the Ravenna location of Third Place Books.

We finished the day around 8:30 p.m. at Elliot Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill. Diana couldn’t join me for the crown “champion” photo because she’d only visited a “paltry” 10 bookstores, so I ended the day the way I started — “independent-ly.” (The photo is in the slideshow below.)

In the end, I was glad I did it. In fourteen hours, I not only visited 19 bookstores, but 14 that were new to me. I have a full list of places I want to return with my hard-won Bookstore Champion 25-percent discount and I have a year to do it in.

I also now think of the Puget Sound map in a fresh new way —  in terms of bookstore locations. That’s a nice way to think of home.

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Here’s what I learned for next year:

  • Consider skipping the challenge of visiting 19 stores and set a personal goal based on activities and events. I was in such a hurry, I missed fun literary scavenger hunts, raffles, giveaways, author readings and a blackout poetry session that would have been right up my alley.
  • Pack snacks and limit the coffee. I had too many espresso shots and not enough food.
  • Catch the Bainbridge ferry at 6:10 a.m. instead of 7:55. It’s darn early, but the extra hour would have made a big difference in my comfort level about finishing the challenge. Especially during the morning hours, I felt like I couldn’t slow down.
  • Organize a group to share driving, navigating and laughs.
  • Slow down. You will finish.

Here’s what I’d suggest to Seattle Bookstore Day organizers for next year:

  • Expand the challenge to a weekend, week or even a month. Independent Bookstore Month would be a natural fit with National Poetry Month, which also occurs in April. If readers had more time to check the 19 bookstores off their lists, they’d have more time to explore and support not only the participating bookstores, but the communities they’re located in.
  • If it remains a “one-day challenge,” consider flipping the early/late hours to spread the love. The Bainbridge and Poulsbo bookstores opened earliest at 7:30 a.m. so I went there first, as many participants did. However, I was in such a hurry to get back to the mainland to ensure I had enough time to finish the challenge, I didn’t feel I had time to shop in these early stores. I regret the “stamp and run.” If these stores were open late (say 9, 10 or 11 p.m. as some of the Seattle stores were), I’d reverse my route next year, and linger in the stores I largely missed this year.

Missed my Bookstore Champion planning post from Friday? Read it here. It didn’t all go the way I planned, but having one certainly helped.

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