The Girl on the Road

No, this is not a review of Monica Byrne’s fabulous The Girl in the Road (I’m working on that very positive review). This is the story of a road trip taken just last week on paved highways with no water beneath us except for bridges. I am the “Girl” (a huge chronological “Hah!”) on the road inside a new VW Jetta, in the company of my editor-daughter and my already-voracious-reader granddaughter.

We left Reno late Wednesday morning, heading north for a final destination of Portland, Oregon. We fed the navigation program a variety of stops along the way, lava fields, Crater Lake, and with chatter filling the first miles, we reminisced about other road trips taken many years ago from our home in the Bay Area to a family cabin at Lake Tahoe. Those trips included three children, an assortment of bikes hanging from a rack at the back of our little blue Honda Civic wagon and just about everything else strapped to the rack on top of the car. In addition to myself and three children were at least two cats, and eventually two cats and a dog. One of the two cats was a splendid traveler, the other would cry incessantly from the first mile until Placerville and intermittently between Placerville and South Lake Tahoe, giving all of us periodic moments of hope. My goal in those years as a single mother was to arrive at Tahoe in the shortest possible time, no matter how pathetic and heart-wrenching the begging to stop.

To be on the road again with one of those children and one grandchild, but without cat or dog on board, was pure delight. We were not expected in Portland until an unspecified time on Thursday evening. The road was ours, the hours were ours and we could stop when and wherever we damned well pleased. We got as far as Susanville, a small northern California town founded by Isaac Roop in 1853. Initially Isaac called his little corner of the world Rooptown, then, for unknown reasons, this founding father came to his senses some three years later and renamed the town for his beloved daughter Susan. We found Susanville to our liking and made it our first unofficial stop. How could we not? There were buildings demanding to be photographed with facades from the 1800s, to Art Deco, right up to the plastic present. The girl child asked if I would stop so she could memorialize those buildings, especially a modestly dazzling movie house. I don’t think we’d been on the road for more than an hour or so. The granddaughter was practically out of her booster seat with enthusiasm for her mother’s request. In addition, we spotted an antique store, and best of all, not half a block from the antique store was Margie’s Book Nook. Neither had been programmed into the Jetta’s navigation system, but bookstores are in our blood, our very DNA, so we left the car with little thought of lava fields or Crater Lake.

MARGIE'S BOOK NOOK 1Margie’s Book Nook is a wonderful, fun store. She has both new and used books; new books and cool items for kids are nicely displayed in the front of the store. Her used books are cleverly nooked by genre in the back half of the store with plenty of easy chairs for getting lost into whatever title a customer pulls from a shelf. Upon entering a store like Margie’s, my body shifts into automatic pilot. Introductions were made and before long Margie and I began a lively rant on the latest Amazon/Hachette news from that day’s Shelf Awareness. It was another hour before our little threesome left the store, but not before my granddaughter Matilda bought a book from John Peterson’s Littles series and I bought (for Amelia, the Portland granddaughter) a copy of Aaron Becker’s 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Journey, published by Candlewick Press. Journey is an eye-popping, wordless picture book extolling the power of one piece of red chalk and the imaginative story it draws. Margie generously gave me a professional discount. 

The Book Nook has existed for twenty-plus years and it is easy to see why. Our conversation was happily interrupted many times as Margie answered customer questions and offered special and very personal assistance. She is exactly what Amazon is not. She cares about her books, her customers, her community. Margie’s son is soon to take over as she approaches retirement and you can find them on Facebook. Bookstores should always be a point of interest for the reading traveler. If you drive through Susanville, no matter where you’re headed, stop by and say hello. And after saying “hello,” buy a book.

When back in the car, I asked my daughter Jaz what she had bought. In one non-stop breath, holding up a used pocketbook, she responded, “Nightmare Alley, a midcentury pulp novel noteworthy both for being the basis for a classic Burt Lancaster film at the corner of noir and lurid and for being written by the abusive ex-husband Joy Davidman was fleeing when she moved to England, where she would meet and marry CS Lewis.” Now I ask you, how can any wish-you-were-here postcard beat that?   – Sunny Solomon

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