Sometimes I joke that I was raised by a library and two sailboats.
That’s not actually true.
I was raised by a library (Tredyffrin* Library to be exact) a couple of sailboats, and a local, independent bookstore.
The bookstore in question was called The Readers’ Forum and it existed somewhere outside of time and logic a half mile from my home. Sam and Al, the two guys who ran the place, filled the store with a fantastic collection of poetry and new fiction. They had aisles dedicated to science fiction and fantasy. And sometimes they put ARCs (advanced readers copies) aside for my sister and for me.
I found Jack Chalker there (I know, I know), Ender’s Game, Ursula Le Guin, and Anne McCaffrey. When I was a teenager, after my Farmers’ Market shift ended on Saturdays, I usually went by the store and spent a good chunk of my wages, but never all of it, even though I always left with more books than I intended (and always exactly what I needed). I bought Thomas and Beulah there just before I went to study poetry with Rita Dove at UVA.
Sam and Al ran The Readers’ Forum with so much love for books. Piles of that love teetered on the floors and tables and rose to great heights on the upper shelves. The owners knew what their readers loved too, and they always had an extra recommendation behind the counter or an ARC in the back room. But sometimes it takes more than love of books to keep a business going, and The Readers’ Forum had a bunch of wobbly years.
When I came back from school to visit them, the bookstore was sometimes hopping (holidays) and sometimes quiet (spring break), but they always had a book out they thought I should read. An ARC of The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan, The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. A dual language collection of Eugenio Montale’s poetry.
The local community kept The Readers’ Forum going a few times. There was a fundraiser. Another one. It kept them operating for long enough that the last time I visited, I took them an ARC of my own: a copy of my first book, Updraft.
Sam and Al were happy to see me, and delighted at having the tables turned, but it was obvious what was most on their minds once again was how to keep the shop running.
Meantime, I developed relationships with the other area independent bookstores. It felt a bit like cheating on an old friend at first, but with so many vibrant stores in and around Philadelphia, it was impossible not to branch out a bit.
Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr became a home base, filled with friends and many readings; Doylestown Bookshop an absolute joy to visit for events; Big Blue Marble, a comforting nest close to home and a great place for discussions.
I kept hoping Readers’ Forum would join in the resurgence of local bookstores as well, but as time passed, it looked like Sam and Al were ready to let it close. I made ready to let my first bookstore — one of the first places in my literary life — become a memory.
Then, last June, I had a reading at Main Point Books with Ada Palmer and Jo Walton and I learned a cool thing: Cathy and Anmiryam of Main Point Books were moving my favorite main line-area bookstore and its beautifully curated selection of books, to a new location.
Where they were going delighted me even more: they were taking over The Readers’ Forum space in Wayne.
It feels like full circle. A new bookstore will fill the place in my memory where I learned to love the genre I write in now.
I’m looking forward to visiting Main Point Books a lot, and maybe bringing them an ARC now and then too.
(*I know the name looks funny, but Tredyffrin’s a great neighborhood library and YOU try learning to spell and not turn to fantasy when surrounded by place names like Schuykill, Tredyffrin and Conshohocken.)