On Saturday, November 26, Sherman Alexie and 24 other local literary types—mostly authors and a few critics (including me)—transformed themselves into temporary booksellers to celebrate Indies First, a nationwide event encouraging people to shop at independent bookstores first, before blowing their whole holiday budget at big box stores or online mega-retailers.
Held in concert with Small Business Saturday, Alexie told us the event began three years ago after he failed to make a scheduled appearance at Queen Anne Book Company. To compensate for standing up the store, owner Janis Segress asked Alexie to be a bookseller for a day. It was a success, and when the American Booksellers Association got wind of it, they approached him to make it national. Now he's got everybody doing this cool and beautiful and deeply human thing.
As a group, we cruised from Third Place Books in Seward Park to University Book Store to Elliott Bay Book Company in a Starline Luxury Coach dubbed the "Party Bus." This year was the first year Alexie employed such a bus, and I hope it will not be the last.
Deftly organized by Wendy Hathaway and cheerfully helmed by Alexie, our group donned bright-blue scarves to differentiate ourselves among the book-buying public and boarded the bus. Though bookish people have a reputation for insularity, the chatter on the bus was nonstop and enlivening.
While Deb Caletti, author of the National Book Award finalist Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, endured my obnoxious jokes about the startling associations the word "crampon" brings to mind, I overheard others talking politics and/or books they were working on and/or the thousand complexities of life. Meanwhile, David Schmader, Stranger columnist and author of Weed: The User's Guide: A 21st Century Handbook for Enjoying Marijuana, passed out La Croix (pamplemousse flavor) to the needy.
Each independent bookstore welcomed us with cookies and beverages. Third Place Books won the confectionary battle, but their gorgeous Seward Park location is part-cafe, part-store, so they perhaps had an unfair advantage. Our recommended books sat on tables, and visitors lined up to talk to the writers and to get their books signed.
At the University Book Store, the former teacher in me wept with joy when I saw Jane Wong discussing her book, Overpour, with one of her former students. And I beamed when a UW student approached me to ask if I'd been keeping up with Mark Z. Danielewski's The Familiar series. I'm not a huge fan of Danielewski, whose heady House of Leaves was the literary Rubik's Cube of my college years, but I'm a huge fan of students spending hours trying to figure out how and why a book enthralls them.
Seattle civic poet Claudia Castro Luna signed copies of her new book, This City. Also in attendance: Hugo House fellow Quenton Baker, New York Times best-selling writer Kevin O'Brien, who was working the crowd, and Bridget Foley, author of Hugo & Rose, a book of fiction that involves "a spider the size of a Mazda." Seattle City Council member Debora Juarez was along for the ride in a nonofficial, book-loving capacity.
But it was a little girl—about 5 years old—who was the star of the day.
At our final stop, Elliott Bay Book Company, a girl named Eloise made her presence known to Alexie. She was there with another girl—they both wore tutus—and her family.
Eloise stood there in her fuchsia power-tutu, her hands on her hips, her eyes trained upward, not in fawning admiration of Alexie, but as a kind of challenge: He should be grateful for the opportunity to sign her copy of Thunder Boy Jr., Alexie's children's book released this year.
"Meeting Eloise was the best part of the day," he said later. "It always reminds me of how much books mattered to me as a kid. Books mattered more to me when I was a kid than they do now."