Shelf Life for Summer 2020, pt. 2

Books Bought/Found/Given
Occulture: The Unseen Forces that Drive Culture Forward by Carl Abrahamson
Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks
Ghost Cat by Beverly Butler
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo
The Circle by Dave Eggers
How to Fight/Love/Relax/Walk by Thich Nhat Hanh
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas In American by Ibram X. Kendi
Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott
Small Victories: Spotting Improbably Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
Independent People by Halldór Laxness
Second Person Rural by Noel Perrin
People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Welcome back for part 2 of the Summer 2020 edition of Shelf Life. If you haven’t read part 1, you can find it here ( 

This continuation focuses on the books I added to my collection over the summer and the ways I got them. Book shopping ain’t the drawn-out, multi-hour, carefree experience it once was, but it felt so good to spend a bit of time among the bookshelves and tables.

I first dipped my toe back into book shopping with a little online purchasing. That’s how I ended up with Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas In American and White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo. Both books were on my list for a while, and I was spurred to buy them by the nationwide events that took a turn for the revolutionary back in late spring. As I wrote in part 1, I’m working on Kendi’s How To Be an Anti-Racist right now, but I’m eager to get into these two, as well.

By mid-July, a third of a year having passed without being in a bookstore, I decided to take a chance and visit Phoenix Books in Essex, VT. Back in June, Max Brook releases his new novel, Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre. His debut novel, World War Z, is one of my favorites, and I’d been waiting for the new one with a ton of anticipation. I could’ve (and nearly did) break down and buy it online, but for me, some books are a whole experience. A significant part of that is going to a brick and mortar store, thumbing through the book, smelling it, reading the inside flaps, and leaving with it. 

So I put on a face mask, hoped for the best, and went in. Phoenix Books did a fantastic job in the early days of reopening, keeping the place clean, masking up, and keeping a close eye on the number of customers. I haven’t been back since, as I’m keeping that sort of stuff to a minimum, but when it’s time, Phoenix Books has earned my return visit.

Not just because of the safety measures around COVID-19, though. I would have been very happy to go in, buy Devolution, and leave. Instead, I left with an autographed copy at no extra charge.

Folks, independent book stores are a treasure. Their owners work so hard to make the book shopping experience special, and that’s exactly what it was for me that day in mid-July. Thank you, Phoenix Books.

Bookstores are just one side of my book-buying coin, though. Flip it over and you’ll find used book sales. 

My favorite book sale at the Underhill Harvest Market won’t be happening this year due to COVID-19. The whole deal is cancelled. It’s a heartbreaker, but it’s also the right choice. And maybe this will mean even more books next year …

As luck would have it, there was a used book sale put on by The Friends of Montgomery Library in Montgomery, VT, at the end of July. My youngest son was visiting, and we decided we’d give it a try. We got there right at the start (to the point that I helped put the sign out by the road) to get in and out, keeping contact to a minimum.

We had a blast. Again, safety came first. FML had a table at the front with hand sanitizer and a contact tracing sign-in sheet. Everyone wore face masks. There was one other shopper there at the time, and we stayed mindful of each other. The books were spread out on tables in a large grange hall, so that wasn’t much of an issue. And because of the open setup, we were comfortable taking our time, feeling a little like we were in the Before Times.

My personal haul from the sale was 13 books, plus another four for my wife and one for my dad. My son picked up a few goodies, too. All told, we spent $20 for the whole pile, including a donation to FML.

I won’t get into the books themselves here. Not much, anyway. Nearly two months later, I’m still focused on the experience. Savoring it. There most likely won’t be another one like it for a while. Used book sales were always special. But now they’re special. You know?

I’m looking forward to reading Joseph Bruchac’s Skeleton Man, a modern retelling of an old Abenaki tale. Good time of year for it. Same with Ghost Cat, a middle reader book from the 1980s that I’d never heard of. The book might not have caught my eye, but literally the night before, I had a dream about a ghost cat. I tend to notice synchronicities when they pop up, and that seemed like a decent one. So I bought the book. 

The book I was most excited to get was A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Zinn is a hero of mine, and I haven’t had a copy of People’s History in well over ten years. I loaned mine to someone and didn’t get it back. Now that hole has been refilled.

And now summer is over, for all intents and purposes. Days grow shorter and shorter. Green leaves turn red and orange. Canada geese begin to migrate south. Fall reading begins, and I’m eager to curl up tight with my books, letting the weather grow cooler while the written word warms my heart.

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