November 1, 2013 | by Kelly McMasters
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” —L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
October has turned cold. We’ve had snow the past two days. I’d been dreading the turn of the season, the trees shaking loose their final leaves. From my porch, looking across the bare hills at night, lights shine nakedly on houses no longer obscured. The garden looks dead and dank, no more soft edges along the forest, sounds from the road not so muffled. Everything is stark. Things are what they are.
Moody Road Studios marks its one-year anniversary next month and I’ve been compelled to take stock, to really look at the bare hills and valleys. I boxed up my first returns this week, a mix of hardcovers about to come out in paperback and some flopped experiments—design books and art books and a charmingly earnest photography book called The French Cat that I felt sure would be one of my bestsellers but barely moved.
The familiar shiver of desperation creeps up my spine as I toggle between the shop’s bank account and the calendar, anticipating the holiday season. The summer crowds died down many weeks ago and I’m beginning to feel like one of those stuntmen stretched between two unhitched train cars, feet on one platform and fingertips clawing at the other.
But even if the crowds have died down, the enthusiasm has not, and I think this is what keeps me stretching. During our October reading series—featuring the incomparable Carolyn Turgeon, Kelly Braffet, and Mermer Blakeslee—the crowd was smaller but we still sold out of all three authors’ books. Last week, a friend of the store picked up five copies of Mason Currey’s creativity bible Daily Rituals to give to her kids for Christmas. People have placed orders for more books than ever this month, new titles and old, from Edwidge Dandicat’s Claire of the Sea Light to Angela Carter’s Night at the Circus and Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death and the Changing of Seasons. Just today, three separate visitors stopped by my desk after browsing to tell me how much they love bookstores and can’t imagine a world without real books. Of course, only one of those three actually made a purchase. Their words were still reassuring, even if they didn’t help me stay in business.
Ultimately, it’s this love of books that buoys me. Read More »
August 28, 2013 | by Kelly McMasters
Of one order are the mysteries of light
and of another are those of fantasy
Rider Tarot Deck instructions
—Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda
A good friend came to visit this spring, and a few times during her stay, she pulled a book off the shelves, either from Moody Road Studios or at my home, shuffled the pages under her thumb, and stuck a finger on a line like an arrow hitting a bull’s-eye. Then she’d read the single line aloud, a kind of party trick.
This would typically happen when we’d be in the middle of a conversation, talking about some big questions that we were swirling at the time, the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I, will-this-work-or-not, should-I-take-this-chance kind of conversations that tend to occur after some Southern Comfort on a patio. She used whatever book was in her hand as a literary tarot, and believed the line would tell us all we needed to know. Usually, bizarrely, it worked.
I tried this on my own, but it fell flat. After the house was asleep, I would pose a question in my head and stalk a book, pull it from the stack before it could resist, flip open its pages and point hungrily at it, waiting for its answer. Each time, the result was tinny, hard-pressed, wanting. It reminded me of late nights with my Ouija board as a kid, waiting desperately for something to speak to me when I was really just waiting for my own voice.
People ask a lot of their books. They want them to be amazing, they want them to be cheap, they want them the moment they walk through my door. I often feel like a kind of carnival showman, flashing bright colors in front of the customer, hoping something catches their eye. People’s personal restrictions always amaze me. “I don’t read books with dogs in them.” “I don’t like to have to think too hard.” “I can’t buy books with white covers.” Really? Read More »
July 3, 2013 | by Kelly McMasters
Wear the old coat and buy the new book. —Austin Phelps
When I tell people I run a bookshop, they often respond with envy or admiration. But first, a funny look flashes across their face—sometimes fleeting, sometimes not. A look that says, Poor girl. A look that says, She must be daft.
I am not daft. It’s no secret that the bookstore industry is in trouble, and, six months into this experiment, I still don’t know if this dream is viable. Aside from the question of whether people will buy books or will simply use the shop to browse and then order from Amazon when they get home—or, as Michele Figlate’s fantastic Center For Fiction piece flays, order from their iPhone on the spot using our free Wi-Fi—there are the more prosaic reasons I may not be cut out to run a small business, like quarterly taxes and mopping the floor. But people’s love of books is not something I lose much sleep over.
I’m a romantic, but I’m also a pragmatist. I did not open Moody Road Studios and assume it would pay my home mortgage or student loan, or even for my dark chocolate habit. Like many writers, I survive by keeping a dozen lines in the water. So I write. And edit. And review. And copyedit. And teach. I love each of these things and feel fortunate to be able to do work that I love and get paid for it. And I knew that in order to open this shop, I would need to continue to do all of these things in order to make it work. I won’t necessarily make money, but I can’t afford to lose any money either. Read More »
May 30, 2013 | by Kelly McMasters
Nothing is ever over in a place
like this, which is one
Of the reasons why people come
to look at it. As an
Exhibit the waterfall is naturally
unsurpassed: part of
Its fascination must be in the way
it demonstrates how
an event can still be permanent when it depends for its
Definition on continually going over the edge
—Douglas Crase, The Revisionist
One of my favorite parts of working in Moody Road Studios is figuring out someone’s next favorite book. I enjoy sussing people out, reading their personalities, their quirks, feeling around for clues as to what they might like. Do they want romance or darkness? Are they in it for the sentences or the story? Do they want their world to disappear or to learn something or both? Do they (*gasp*) read the last page first?
Years ago, I bartended in a little dive at the end of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and, especially during slow Sunday afternoon shifts, I liked to guess in my head what drink each new customer would order. I was reminded of these days recently when reading the lovely new memoir, Drinking With Men, by Rosie Schaap, who will read at the next Moody Road Reading Series on June 29. The martini men were easy to spot. So were the bridge-and-tunnel kids coming in for a Long Island Iced Tea (mostly because they reminded me of myself at that age). The whiskey neats were the musicians or artists or writers. Ginger ale and bitters meant you’d spent some time behind the bar or waiting tables. Read More »
April 23, 2013 | by Kelly McMasters
Just before dawn all is blue: I barely see the lark bunting light on a fence post. I stop to admire its white, plump breast, and for a moment the two of us are alone in this world, and at peace.
The bunting flies away: white on black on white on black.
—“Weather Report: April 14,” from Dakota, by Kathleen Norris
After working the day at the bookshop a few weeks ago, I pulled into the long driveway of our old 1860s farmhouse about thirty miles outside town. The light had started to go that dusky blue-gray, turning the hills around us the ruddy red of new buds. I stepped out of my car and a wave of noise came at me from the swamp just beyond a stand of trees in front of our house. This time of year, the northern green frogs are so insistent, so loud, like the twang of thousands of rubberbands snapping, snapping, snapping, and the bullfrogs and peepers complete the chorus. It is eerie, and it is wonderful, and up here in northeast Pennsylvania it is our signal that spring has begun.
Our little collective of shops at Maude Alley also burst into spring this month in its own way. Named for one of the owner’s grandmothers, the alley reminds me of the kind of meandering wooden walkways you find at the beach, but instead of winding toward the ocean ours ends in a sweet secret garden along with a cheese shop, a gallery, and us. On either side of the alley is Milkweed, our anchor store, whose fanciful window displays alone are worth the trip. Hoping to catapult us far from the long winter, the Maude Alley shops decided to throw a party.
When Mark and I lived in the city, we threw crazy cocktail parties in his painting studio down on Great Jones Street. We’d buy cases of pinot noir and chardonnay from Astor Wines up the block and drag bulging bags full of Camembert, manchego, and pecorino from Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker. Filmmakers and hairdressers and painters smoked on the fire escape, uptown collectors mixed with writers from Brooklyn, burlesque dancers bartended and choreographers gulped whisky with bankers, and usually at some point in the party I would lock eyes with Mark across the room and worry the crush of people was about to get out of hand, though it never did. Read More »
March 15, 2013 | by Kelly McMasters
“The sky was darker than the water
—it was the color of mutton-fat jade.”
—Elizabeth Bishop, “The End of March”
On more Saturday afternoons than not this month, I’ve watched swirls of snow blow past the blue door of our bookshop. The parking lots in town have small mountains of mud-encrusted snow piled in their corners, monuments to the length of this winter. At home, the firewood is running low, our freezer is nearly empty of the lamb we split with our neighbors back in the fall, and the local farmer’s market offerings have dwindled down to the last rutabagas from the root cellars. This has been a long winter, and everyone who comes into the bookshop looks a bit tired, drawn, impatient for spring and the promises that come with it.
My favorite customer came in three weeks ago with his pregnant wife, her hair and eyes glowing, everything about her bursting with her own impending spring. Her husband is my favorite customer because he is my good luck charm—on the bookshop’s first Saturday he walked in and poked around until he found our poetry section. He gaped, not believing our little cache of modern poets. He revealed he was also a poet, had written his graduate thesis on Franz Wright. He’d grown up in town and I thought the presence of a local poet on one of our first days open was an auspicious sign. Read More »