Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.
― Virginia Woolf, English novelist and essayist, and leading modernist literary figure of the 20th century, from Street Haunting
I haven’t been to Book Passage (51 Tamal Vista Boulevard, Corte Madera, CA 94925, 415.927.0960) in the North Bay in many years; I know, shame on me! But when I saw that Emma Donoghue, Irish-born playwright, literary historian, and novelist, was going to appear there for a reading last Thursday evening ― and I had just read a glowing review of her latest novel, Frog Music, a historical murder mystery based on a real-life murder case set in San Francisco ― I told myself I needed to get back into the swing of attending book readings. And so I did.
When I moved to San Francisco many years ago, one of the benefits was living in a city full of independent bookstores. Alas! So many of them have been shuttered ― A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books and Stacy’s. And in the East Bay ― Cody’s, Black Oak Bookstore, and Moe’s. When those bookstores closed, so went away the venues for many of the readings I diligently attended. Then I got so busy with life that I didn’t have time to attend readings and didn’t check the Sunday papers to see who was in town at other bookstores or events.
But that all changed since last fall when my friend Jane and I attended a number of book readings through the Berkeley Arts & Letters program. This time, Isabella accompanied me to Book Passage, and it became our Mom/daughter evening. The first and last time Isabella attended a reading with me was when Louise Erdrich was in town and Isabella was an infant, asleep in my Baby Bjorn. Louise had just had a baby as well, and we chatted very briefly about motherhood as she signed her books for me.
First up for mom and daughter was sharing a BLT for dinner at the Book Passage café. Then we meandered through the aisles of the store, picking up books and flipping through the pages. We had good seats, sitting close up in what turned out to be a full house, which was heartening for all to see. Emma explained that she likes to dramatize while reading instead of reciting lines in a monotone voice, as most authors do. So she made for an entertaining reading, swapping out different voices for the characters. She has written an impressive 16 books, but she is well-known for Room, a novel published in 2010 and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize about a five-year-old boy named Jack, who lives in a small room with his Ma and has never been outside that room. To be honest, I’d never heard of that particular novel, but I picked it up in addition to Frog Music, upon the advice of her adoring fan base.
After the reading and book signing, Isabella and I headed over to the other section of Book Passage, which has a separate entrance and houses the children’s section. At first, I thought we had walked into another store because there were other items other than books being sold. Particularly display cases full of jewelry. After finding The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker ― at her reading for her nonfiction book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Katy Butler talked about the existence of seven basic plots in storytelling and how that was immensely helpful for her as she structured her story ― on the bookshelves, I checked out the jewelry.
I found several beautiful necklaces made by Gretchen Schields, who happens to be the book cover illustrator for Amy Tan’s earlier novels. Among her many talents is handmaking jewelry and these particular necklaces are from a series called Silk Road. Schields uses antique Japanese obi, silks, Chinese embroideries, and European brocades for the cords and collars, and collectibles and beads for adornment. Who could resist wearable art that is made of antique material with such wonderful history? Not I. Isabella happily found Babymouse graphic novels to read. After a memorable evening together, we came home with our treasures. I realized how much I had missed going to book readings and hearing writers read their works and having their voices resonate in my head, as well as be in the company of literary kin. More great books to read. Now if I can just find the time!