Consider how many children’s stories involve this scenario: a character somehow opens the door into a surprising new place they never knew existed. The door has been hidden, and required the right magic to reveal it. Or, perhaps the door was simply overlooked earlier because of its modest appearance. Either way, the character steps inside to discover a fully formed world, ready to be explored. Often what they find is a combination of the real and the make-believe: interesting people, unusual occurrences, fantastic creatures.
These stories appeal to our desire for stimulation and novelty. But they also speak to the way the world surprises us. Those surprises help us discover who we are in relationship to the possibilities life offers.
We’re drawn to such stories because scenarios like these aren’t simply fantasies. They are metaphors for experiences that unfold throughout our lives when we encounter the new. For young children it might be the first visit to a friend’s house, a new activity, or a vacation trip. As we grow, it may happen as we enter a new school, workplace, or interest group.
Or, it could be as simple as walking into an unfamiliar shop, which is how it happened to me recently. I’d received an email from “Good Buy Books,” an independent seller of new and gently used books across the river. One of their customers had requested copies of Defender of Dirt, my self-published eco-adventure novel for children. I had no idea this store was even there, so of course I just had to go check it out.
It was getting dark when I arrived at a little red . . . log cabin. Yep. Looked like a Maple Syrup Hut or something. I didn’t know what to expect, but found myself bracing a bit. I’ve been in a few too many ramshackle, musty, and claustrophobic used bookstores.
The interior, however, is cozy and inviting. This is a true Mom and Pop store, owned by Lynne and Vinny Catelotti, who have run the place for eight years. It offers a large selection without feeling crowded, and Vinny was happy to give me a tour.
Exuding friendliness, the shop is a true locus for readers: they host a book club, hold author events, stock the summer reading for local schools, and are involved in the community in all sorts of ways.
One of those ways is as a reuse and recycle hot spot. Vinny and I got into a conversation about the “ecology” of the store when I noticed a “Think Green” sign about avoiding plastic bags, posted near the checkout. I joked that by buying used books, we are re-cycling them, but he also told me that any damaged or unmarketable books get picked up by Green Fiber. This company actually recycles them into insulation.
The money from that transaction then cycles back to kids, as Lynne and Vinny donate it to the local Kiwanis club. They donate excess copies of books to the public library, or ship them to overseas military.
Vinny and Lynne also keep a box behind the counter for customers to drop off their Christmas cards. These go to a recycling program that benefits St. Jude’s. Near the Christmas card box is a large canister of pull tabs from beverage cans. Customers bring these in for the Ronald McDonald House, which raises money through recycling them. In this age of convenience, book buyers bearing cardstock and aluminum sound like fantastical creatures to me, but, clearly, they frequent Good Buy Books.
A kind of “everyday magic” is being performed in this bookshop: a reduction of waste and a multiplication of relational exchanges between the owners, the patrons, and the community. What a contrast with big box stores and online purchasing! It reminded me of the statistics on how many more conversations people have at farmer’s markets than at grocery stores.
I left feeling charmed and buoyed by the visit. Plus, I had 4 books in my cloth bag that together cost about the same as 1 new hardback.
So, the dark-of-winter, post-holiday doldrums are coming. Why not open the door to a fully formed world that holds a lovely combination of the real and the make-believe? I’d recommend a trip to the little red log cabin at 330 Columbia Turnpike in Rensselaer, NY.