Store: The Vermont Book Shop
Location: Middlebury, VT
Recommendation: We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
After a disappointing store in Rochester, a harrowing drive across windy mountain roads and almost being killed by an idiotic driver who didn’t know how to navigate the Middlebury rotary, I didn’t arrive at the Vermont Book Shop in the best of moods.
But that’s the great thing about bookstores. No matter what your mood when you walk in, you walk out feeling refreshed, calm and with a book under your arm.
The Vermont Book Shop is located in a sunny storefront on Mains Street in Middlebury.
(On a side note, 17 of the 31 stores on my list are located on Main Street. I probably I could come up with a wise hypothesis about how that statistic indicates the importance of bookstores to small town economies and cultural life, but I think it has more to do with unimaginative street naming.)
I’m probably getting into too much minutia here, but the store had a really good balance of shelves and table space.
It sounds silly, I know. But a store that is all wall shelves is overwhelming and feels unapproachable. And a store with mostly tables can’t have the inventory that shelves provide and feels inadequate.
The Vermont Store has just the right amount of both.
After wandering around for a bit to get over my pissiness, I stopped in the section dedicated to Middlebury College alumni and professors.
I applied to Middlebury back in high school and didn’t get accepted. I might have been waitlisted. I don’t remember.
In hindsight, I’m glad. I don’t think the school would have been a god fit for me at all. But after the rejection, I had a bit of an attitude about the school. It’s the fox and grapes thing; since I can’t have it, it must be not worth having.
That said, the college section of the Book Shop was seriously impressive. Between the imposing scientific books, pretentious looking poetry collections and award winning novels, it’s clear that Middlebury College produces results.
I then wandered down to the fiction section and daydreamed about all the books I would someday read.
For a Sunday morning, the store was rather busy. People were milling about, browsing and, even better, buying.
The bookseller behind the counter was happy to chat though.
I did my spiel and asked her for a recommendation.
Jennifer took me down to a section of the fiction area that had a whole wall of staff recommended books.
“Are you looking for beach read or something more substantial?”
I didn’t have a preference and I told her so. She pointed to a book (which I told myself I’d remember but didn’t) and said that was her light recommendation, but We Are All Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler was a really great book.
She also told me that the author wrote the Jane Austin Book Club too, but that this new novel was very different.
I choose the non-beach book and we chatted on the way back to the register. I told her that I had been waiting for a bookseller to recommend The Light in the Ruins, the new book by Chris Bohjalian. I want to read it and he is a Vermont author, but so far no one had picked it.
The store’s owner was a fan, she said, and probably would have suggested it if she had been there.
But I’m happy with the book Jennifer recommended. After all, one of the goals of this adventure was to discover new books and authors.
Jennifer said the best thing as I was checking out. She said, “I love your project. And I love that someone thought of a project like that.”
I know what she means. It’s pretty cool that Vermont has enough independent bookstores that visiting them is an actual endeavor.
A happy endeavor because when I walked out of The Vermont Book Shop all thoughts of curvy roads and bad drivers had been banished.
And I did indeed have a book under my arm.