VT Bookstore Adventure #22 – Rivendell Books (Berlin)

Store: Rivendell Books
Location: Berlin, VT
Bookseller: Derek
Recommendation: T-Rex Trying by Hugh Murphy

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It seems that Rivendell Books and its sister store Bear Pond Books hold a bit of a monopoly on independent book stores in the capital region.

There is a Rivendell in Montpelier, a Bear Pond in the same town and then there’s this Rivendell located in the Berlin “Mall” just a few miles away.

I put mall in quotes because the Berlin Mall is a strange little mall.

It’s long and narrow and, even though there’s a large Walmart on one end and a JC Penney on the other, there’s really not much in between.

It was one of the only malls within an hour’s drive when I was growing up and I remember being very impressed by the Orange Julius.

There’s no Orange Julius now. But there is a Simply Subs, whose colors and restaurant design make it look almost like a Subway.

So much so that I would worry about a lawsuit if I owned it.

I don’t think there was a bookstore there back then, but now there’s Rivendell Books.

When I wrote about Phoenix Books in Essex back in August I said it was “refreshing” to see an independent located in an outlet mall.

In theory, the same should be true of an independent in a retail mall, even if it’s a strange little retail mall.

But I found this Rivendell sadly disappointing.

The space had an odd temporary feel, like one of those Halloween or Christmas stores that pop up for a few months each year.

Most of the books were on shelves along the outer walls with a few tables and bookshelves scattered on the floor.

There was a sale table, an okay kids section and a 15 percent off best sellers area.

There was also an inflatable moose head on one of the walls, apropos of nothing in particular that I could see other than that the store was in Vermont.

The fiction section was small and included mostly well-known authors.

The Vermont section was also small, but there were several graphic novel shelves and the store seemed to have a lot of Christian fiction.

It didn’t take long to look around.

Still discouraged by the suggestion from the previous store and given the limited fiction section and that the only novel in the scant “staff picks” shelf was a teen romance, I didn’t hold out much hope of good recommendation but headed to the register anyway.

The store wasn’t exactly busy, but there was a line at the counter.

I got the impression that people don’t browse at Rivendell. The store feels utilitarian and customers seemed to just go directly to the register to ask rather than look around themselves.

The woman in front of me was still complaining about a special order she placed and there were a couple of people in back of me when the bookseller, Derek, got to me, so I gave him the condensed version of my travels and asked for his recommendation.

My mistake was using the word “fiction” instead of novel. I was trying to stress fiction so I didn’t get another God / adoption book.

I didn’t but I also didn’t get what I was looking for.

Technically T-Rex Trying — a book that “depicts the stubby-armed tyrant in a range of hilarious yet pathos-inducing activities that we humans take for granted” — is fiction.

I guess I just wanted something with chapters. And fewer cartoons.

But for the second time that day I bought I book I didn’t really want because the bookseller either didn’t understand or have the time to care about my request and I didn’t feel like I could push it.

All in all, my trip to Barre and Berlin was a bust, probably the least successful and fun of the entire adventure.

The stores were fine, but not as wonderful as most of the other book shops I’ve visited. And the booksellers seemed distracted and disinterested.

Luckily, I’ve since been to some wonderful stores (including one I visited yesterday that may just be my very favorite yet. But you’ll have to wait to see which store it is.) and my future posts will be back to their usual gushing.

Oh, don’t tell anyone about the picture below. There was a sign saying you can’t take photos in the mall, but we snuck one anyway!

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VT Bookstore Adventure #21 – Next Chapter Bookstore

Store: Next Chapter Bookstore
Location: Barre, VT
Bookseller: Cynthia
Recommendation: Are We There Yet?: Adopting and Raising 22 Kids! by Sue & Hector Badeau

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I admit that I’ve been procrastinating writing my next two Vermont Bookstore Adventure posts.

It’s not that the stores were bad. I was just disappointed in the recommendations the booksellers made and it’s colored my judgement.

Or maybe I was just having a bad day.

Or perhaps the other stores have been so great that I had the expectation all Vermont bookstores are exceptional.

Either way, I’ve put off writing about Next Chapter Bookstore.

Like many of the towns I’ve visited, I haven’t spent any time in Barre. The streets were quiet when we arrived except for the occasional bubble that floated by from the bubble maker outside the party store down the street.

Next Chapter was quiet too. Although I think we had just hit the post-story hour lull.

The store is long and quite narrow with a door on either end, like a “shotgun house.” (I’ve always loved that term.)

Near one door is the cash register and a cozy seating area with chairs.

The side walls contained long fiction sections, with lots of romance and science fiction selections. There were also paperback and hardcover best seller displays.

The center, and what seems to be the majority, of the store was the children’s section with tons of books, toys and art supplies. There was also a play area with a ladder and a cave.

I was tempted to climb up the ladder, but resisted. Maybe I would have if there had been more people in the store.

I’d guess that over half the store if kid-focused, but that could have just been the way it was laid out.

The other end of the shop had non-fiction books and a small sale section.

Cynthia, the store’s owner, was behind the counter. She was pretty friendly but seemed a little distracted and had only a passing interest in the project.

(Side note: I don’t expect every single bookseller to drop everything and gush about this adventure. But in general, the response has been great, proving my theory that independent bookstore’s have staff that are truly interested in books and readers.)

When I asked for a recommendation, Cynthia didn’t pause or come out from behind the counter. She handed me a copy of the book displayed in front of the register, Are We There Yet?: Adopting and Raising 22 Kids! by Sue & Hector Badeau. The authors had been in the store for a reading, so the book was autographed.

The book is about a couple that, as the title says, adopted 22 children, many of them with special needs.

The topic doesn’t really interest me and it looks like there is going to be a fair amount of God talk, which also doesn’t interest me, but I fully expected to not like at least a few of the recommended books so that’s not why I was disappointed in the selection.

First, I have been specifically requesting “a novel” or “fiction” because I don’t read a lot of nonfiction. Cynthia either wasn’t listening or didn’t hear me when she offered Are We There Yet.

Second, I felt like the recommendation was made by rote. Cynthia didn’t rave about the book. She didn’t even say she had read it. Whether or not it she read and loved it, it appeared like she simply picked up the closet book and handed it to me.

I feel pretty guilty writing a less than glowing review of a bookstore. Even the worst independent store (and I’m not saying that Next Chapter is the worst) is better than most box stores and it’s wonderful that Barre has one.

This just wasn’t my favorite stop on the adventure.

While I didn’t walk out of Next Chapter raving about the store, I did walk out with a book about twenty-two kids and God.

I might not actually read it, but if the Badeaus have 22 kids they can probably use the money from the sale.

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VT Bookstore Adventure #20 – Book King Books

Store: Book King Books
Location: Rutland, VT
Bookseller: Susan
Recommendation: The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison

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Book King in Rutland isn’t just the only bookstore in the city of 15,000 plus.

It’s the sole shop in Rutland County, one of the most populated counties in the state and almost 1000 square miles.

I don’t know why a state with so many bookstores per capita has one county with such a dearth, but it a rather sad state of affairs.

Luckily, there is Book King.

My first thought walking into the store was, “this place is huge!”

It turns out the store isn’t as big as the space makes you think. The store has high ceilings and a kind of wrap around second floor, but there are no books upstairs.

(I believe Susan, the bookseller, told me that the second story couldn’t take the weight of all the shelves and books, but I may be misremembering.)

Even though it’s not as big as it appears, Book King still has a nice layout.

There’s plenty of space between displays and shelves, a small kids section, comfortable reading nooks located in various places around the store and (my personal favorite) a free community meeting room in the back.

I wish I could have the performing arts center board meetings in a bookstore.

One side of the store has a self-serve Kuerig coffee pot, in lieu of a full-fledged coffee bar.

Book King also has some fun and unique displays.

They feature a “book of the day,” which in essence is a sale but only on that one book.

I also found a section of books that had been made into movies and a whole case of new releases that had been “gently read” by the staff and then discounted.

(I love this idea, by the way. It not only encourages staff to read the books coming into the store but gives customers a cheaper way to purchase the latest books. If a store near me did this, I would visit every week to see what was new.)

My only complaint was the fiction section. Other than the best seller displays, there seemed to be only four cases of novels and many of the books appeared to be Christian literature.

I found the Left Behind series, the Redemption series, a set of Amish romance novels and the like.

Maybe I was in the Christian section and didn’t realize it, but I don’t think so.

After exploring the store, I introduced myself to Susan and did my Vermont Bookstore Adventure spiel.

She was more than interested in the project. We chatted about other stores, about Book King and the lack of bookshops in the county.

We also talked books and Susan recommended The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison. She said that this was the author’s first novel and she died before it was launched.

That story alone made me want to read the book.

But then Susan gave me a synopsis of the plot and her enthusiasm convinced me even further.

When I checked out, I asked if I could have a bookmark from the store, something I’ve been collecting on my travels.

It turns out the Susan makes the store’s bookmarks by printing their info on her leftover scrapbook paper.

You’ve got to love that combination of thrifty and crafty! And it was certainly the first homemade bookmark of the adventure.

I enjoyed my visit to Book King and chatting with Susan.

And when I got home, I discovered a lovely email from her saying how much she liked reading my blog and that she hoped they were selling my novel some day. (Another first!)

If there’s one conciliation to having a single bookstore in a big county, it’s that the one store is Book King!

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VT Bookstore Adventure #19 – Ebenezer Books

Store: Ebenezer Books
Location: Johnson, VT
Bookseller: Rita
Recommendation: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Before visiting Ebenezer Books, I knew Johnson Vermont for just one thing: wool.

The town is home of Johnson Woolen Mills, makers of those iconic checkered hunting coats. The coats I can’t see without thinking of my grandfather and other old Vermonters.

Of course I know there’s a college there too. And Vermont Studio Center, an artist and writer residency program.

But I still just thought of wool.

Ebenezer Books is located on Main Street right next to a buffalo wing place that looked kind of funky (in a good way), but I didn’t try.

While I didn’t see any evidence that the Woolen Mills helped the store’s business, it was immediately apparent that the Studio Center does.

The shop features a lot of works by Studio Center alum and visiting writers as well as a significant writing instruction section.

In fact, there were more books on writing than I’ve seen at almost all the other bookstores combined.

The store is small and, beyond the aforementioned sections, eclectic. There was a lot of poetry, a case of used books and a bank vault, although if I’m remembering correctly there were no books in the old vault.

Maybe I should suggest they put the religion books in there like the store in Lyndonville.

The kids section was its own room, but a few displays overflowed into the rest of the store. Along with picture books and young adult novels it featured some toys, but not so many that the shop felt like a toy store instead of a bookstore.

Rita was the bookseller on duty and, while very nice and interested, she seemed particularly hesitant to recommend a book. She repeatedly said that she wished the owner was there to help me.

For the first time, a book I had already purchased was suggested. In fact, the first three books Rita suggested had already been recommended and purchased.

We had better luck when she stopped suggesting the store owner’s favorite books and tried one she enjoyed herself.

I’ve already read her suggestion, The Round House by Louise Erdrich and greatly enjoyed it. It’s the story of a crime against a women living on a reservation in North Dakota told by her teenage son.

In the middle of reading The Round House I had to put it down to read a library book that had just become available.

I hate interrupting a book and hate reading two books at once even more. But I was able to stop, read the other book and return to The Round House without missing a beat.

I was still interested in the story and remembered enough detail that I didn’t have to reread. (And I usually forget a book’s details very quickly.)

Ebenezer is a nice little store. While I wished the Rita had more faith in her recommendations, she was exceedingly pleasant and gave us a restaurant recommendation (not the wing place next door, which is why I didn’t get my buffalo fix that day.)

I don’t often have occasion to travel to Johnson, but the next time I do I’ll be sure to revisit Ebenezer Books!

VT Bookstore Adventure #18 – Galaxy Bookshop

Store: Galaxy Bookshop
Location: Hardwick, VT
Bookseller: Sandy
Recommendation: The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wrecker

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Due to a combination of laziness and a business trip, I’ve fallen a bit behind in my bookstore blogging. When I got ready to write this post I found myself thinking, “Galaxy? Which one was that?”

Isn’t that Galaxy isn’t a memorable bookstore. I just visited Hardwick at the end of August and after a while all these store have started to blend together.

But I glanced at my notes and saw “mural” with several exclamation points and can’t believe I had forgotten.

One of the store walls boasts a big, beautiful mural. You can see it across the top their website. If I’m remembering correctly Sandy, the bookseller, told me that the mural used to be a part of an old location (a former bank) and was either moved or re-created for the new space.

I can see why. It’s stunning, painted with rich colors and wonderful detail. Apparently the store used to be home to a couple of cats and they make several appearances on the mural. Including one that looks like he’s standing on top of one of the bookcases, which was one of his favorite pastimes Sandy said.

Beyond the mural, Galaxy is charming. The largest section in the store is the children’s books and it features a chair with a giant teddy bear. I wanted to climb on his lap and read “Goodnight Moon.”

The mystery and fiction sections were small, maybe the smallest I’ve seen. The novels were even outnumbered by nonfiction in the Vermont section. But they did have all the bestsellers and a revolving display stand with staff favorites.

What it lacks in fiction Galaxy makes up for in charm. The oldies music playing of the speakers was fun, very sing-along-able. And the signs identifying each section looked handmade. Many of them were collaged and had a tie in with the section they were announcing. The maps section sign was on a map, for instance.

The store also sold some art and had a bunch of cds by local musicians on sale, which helped create the feeling of a very cool store.

Sandy, like many of the booksellers I’ve met, had many books to recommend. I have to say that I’m glad these folks have trouble suggesting just one book. It means they read a lot of books and appreciate a lot of books.

She settled on The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wrecker a book I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked up on my own because it’s science fiction-y. But Sandy convinced me and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Along with a giant teddy bear and gorgeous mural, Galaxy Bookshop wins the award for the bookmarks in Vermont. They are a smaller version of their mural and it’s almost too pretty to use.

Hardwick is one of those Vermont towns that’s not all that accessible, at least from my part of the state. It’s just not a quick trip up an interstate. Galaxy, while smaller, is well worth the drive though. The mural alone is a great reason to stop by!

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VT Bookstore Adventure #17 – Norwich Bookstore

Store: The Norwich Bookstore
Location: Norwich, VT
Bookseller: Liza
Recommendation: Benediction by Kent Haruf

Have you ever noticed that we tend to take the people and places closest to us for granted?

I, for example, live mere miles from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Store. I’m told that chefs far and wide make a pilgrimage to the shop, or at make a point of shopping there on vacation.

The store is on the must-see list of many out-of-town visitors, along with the Quechee Gorge and Simon Pearce.

But I rarely go to the store. I could walk there but I only shop at King Arthur if they are having a sale.

In the same vein, I have taken nearby Norwich Bookstore for granted too.

We went to Norwich on a Thursday night, the one night of the week they are open past 6 pm.

Being a small community, and from having attended author events at the store, I recognized the woman behind the counter as Liza, one of the stores owners.

At readings and events, the center of the small store is filled with folding chairs so I’ve never spent much time exploring the shelves and I’m ashamed to say that I had never been upstairs to the children’s section at all. A children’s section that, it turns out, is one of the best I’ve encountered during my adventures.

The shop is arranged like many stores, staff picks and best sellers greet you when you arrive; fiction shelves are in the main area of the store; cards and other gifts are scattered throughout.

But while some stores can feel either spare or overly stuffed, the Norwich Bookstore has gotten it just right. The store is inviting and cozy, with plenty of books to explore but comfortably spacious as well.

Besides the kids book, the upstairs also houses a lot of non-fiction and a sale island where I found a copy of Bugs, Bowels and Behavior, a title I found intriguing but not intriguing enough to buy even on sale.

Liza recommended Benediction by Kent Haruf when I asked her for a suggestion.

I embarrassingly have never read anything by this author even though a copy of Plainsong has been on my “to be read” shelf for at least two years. I’m excited to have a reason to finally read one of Haruf’s works.

Two things made me very happy at the cash register of Norwich Bookstore:

First, I was able to use a 20% off birthday coupon. (What a nice why to thank your customers even infrequent ones like me.)

And second, Liza told me that even though I own an e-reader made by an evil corporate empire (an e-reader I love none-the-less) I can actually buy e-books from independent bookstores through their website and the Kobo store.

I’m thrilled that I don’t have to buy a new device to support independent bookstore.

So while I may have taken The Norwich Bookstore for granted in the past, I intend to correct that mistake. Not everyone is luckily enough to leave so close to a wonderful independent bookstore and from now on I will take advantage of it every chance I get!

VT Bookstore Adventure #16 – Bartleby’s Books

Store: Bartleby’s Books
Location: Wilmington, VT
Bookseller: Ana
Recommendation: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

Sometimes the story behind a bookstore is as interesting as the store itself. Bartleby’s Books in Wilmington is one such case.

It seems that the owner of Bartleby’s also owned The Book Cellar in nearby Brattleboro.

In April 2011 The Brooks House, a huge, historic building in Brattleboro that housed The Book Cellar along with 14 other stores almost 60 apartments, burned.

The Book Cellar suffered excessive water damage, all the books were lost and the store subsequently closed for good.

Then, just four months later, Tropical Storm Irene flooded the Wilmington store. The entire inventory was ruined this time too, but the store re-opened just three months after the storm.

These two disasters just months apart have made Batleby’s Book something of a legend in the Vermont indy bookstore circles and at least two other booksellers had told me about the stores before I arrived in Wilmington.

It has been two years since the flooding, so it’s no surprise that there is little evidence of the damage.

Other than the t-shirts sporting, “Come hell or high water, Bartleby’s is my Vermont bookstore” and upcoming events with the authors of Deluge: Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont’s Flash Floods and How One Small State Saved Itself and Good Night Irene: Stories and Photos About the Tropical Storm that Devastated Vermont, the Catskills, and the Berkshires you wouldn’t know the store survival story at all.

Bartleby’s is a nice little store. It doesn’t have a lot of the nooks that many stores have. It’s just one big room with a small upstairs area. But that’s enough.

Along the back wall is a self-serve coffee pot, a trend that I’ve seen increasingly through this bookstore adventure. I wonder if this is due to the evolution of the Keurig or if these stores featured a big old fashion urn or carafe before brewing a single cup became so easy.

In front of the register is a long table displaying a lot of books, all facing out. I was unable to discern if these were best sellers, simply popular books or had some other connection to each other. Perhaps it was just an extension of the fiction wall.

Upstairs held some of the non-fiction sections like cook books and a sale shelf.

Ana was working when we visited and she was easily one of the friendliest booksellers I had encountered.

She was very interested in the project and was the first to ask me if I was a writer as well as a reader.

When it came to recommendations, she had ideas in spades. I could have easily left the store with a stack of wonderful novels.

When I mentioned that I was surprised how few stores recommended local authors, she reeled off a half-dozen names for me to check out, most of which the store had in stock.

I ultimately decided to by Ana’s very first suggested title, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

I’m not usually a fan of war books. I even had a hard time reading the World War II sections of Atonement and I love Ian McEwan books.

But Ana spoke so highly of the book and she was so obviously well-read that I trusted her judgment within minutes of meeting her.

I really enjoyed my visit to Bartleby’s and would have even if I hadn’t known about the hardship the store had endured.

And speaking of hardship, the day after my visit a pickup truck crashed into the store’s front door during a storm.

Luckily the building was designed to survive another flood and little damage occurred, but it does make you wonder if Bartleby’s is jinxed just a touch.

The good news is that even if the store is unlucky, it’s obviously also determined to survive. Come hell or high water or even pickup.