Monday, May 01, 2017

The Fast and the Curious

Yours truly (on the right) and my favorite niece and “Champion Challenge” partner, Amie-June Brumble, pose for a quick selfie outside Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo.

After devoting yesterday to recuperation and quiet reading, I think I’m finally prepared to tackle a recap of this last Saturday’s frenzied Independent Bookstore Day “Champion Challenge.” This was the third annual such nationwide celebration of non-corporate American bookshops, an event that grew out of 2014’s California Bookstore Day. And boy, how it has grown! According to Publishers Weekly, 458 stores in 48 states took part this time around (up from 350 in 2015).

Although I have given thought now and then to moving out of Seattle, Washington, it’s events like this that remind me how lucky I am to live here. The goal for bibliophiles and other competitive folk engaged in the Emerald City’s 2017 “Champion Challenge” was to visit at least 19 of 23 participating indie bookstores over the course of a single business day (up from a minimum of 17 last year). Other U.S. cities, and giant stretches of the nation’s interior, don’t even have 23 independent local book retailers, but Seattle boasts many more than that. And everyone who rose to accept this challenge, collecting stamps on a “passport” from the merchants along the way, would win a card entitling him or her to a 25-percent discount at all 23 stores for an entire year. (Less-ambitious types were invited to stop in at just three of the shops, where they could enter a drawing for bookstore gift cards.)

In 2016, my intrepid race partners were technical writer Matthew Fleagle and bookseller James Crossley. This time, I teamed up instead with my favorite niece, Amie-June Brumble, who is every bit as much a reading zealot as I am. She and I had engaged in last year’s “Champion Challenge,” but separately and without ever crossing paths along the way; we didn’t know we were both in the game until it was all over. For this year’s all-day contest, we reasoned that it would be advantageous to combine our knowledge of the ins and outs of calling on so many bookshops in so little time ... and we knew it would be plenty of fun, too, to make the run together.

As I did last year, I’m going to give my account of Independent Bookstore Day 2017 through a series of statistics, all of them adding up to an exhausting but satisfying adventure.

Time we started out: 6:30 a.m., when Amie-June swung by my house in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, and we went to pick up breakfast to go (eggs and sausages) at nearby Ken’s Market. We’d originally planned to partake of the flavorsome offerings at Pete’s Egg Nest, where my two friends and I commenced our race last year, but it turns out that Pete’s doesn’t open till 7 a.m. Amie-June and I ate our Ken’s repast while waiting in line on the Seattle waterfront for the 7:55 ferry to Bainbridge Island, on Puget Sound, west of the city. Our plan was to hit the bookstores surrounding Seattle, in clockwise order, before paying calls on the great mass of shops within the city limits.

First bookstore reached: The Traveler, on the main drag in the Bainbridge town of Winslow. This place, which stocks supplies needed by journeying folk as well as a healthy array of travel guides and travel literature, wasn’t part of last year’s indie event, but it could well have been. We arrived at The Traveler at around 8:30, and ventured from there across the street to the better-known Eagle Harbor Book Company. Two bookstore stamps down, 17 more to go!

First book purchased: During our stop at Liberty Bay Books, in the Scandinavian-themed town of Poulsbo, I picked up a hardcover copy of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology (Norton), which Amie-June had broadly hinted at wanting for her personal library. It seemed like a smart idea to start things off by making my contest cohort happy.

Total number of ferry trips necessary: 2, one from Seattle west to Bainbridge, and the second from Kingston (no relation) east to Edmonds, a suburb north of Seattle. By the time we rolled out of Edmonds, our “passports” contained four stamps!

Both sides of this year’s “passport,” including a list of all the bookstores taking part in the event. Click to enlarge.

Number of books purchased along the way: 3 for myself—a copy of Cold Earth (Minotaur), the brand-new, seventh entry in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland Island mystery series; a copy of the lauded If We Were Villains (Flatiron), by M.L. Rio; and a 1962 edition of Lady, Lady, I Did It!, the 14th installment in Ed McBain’s 87 Precinct series of police procedurals, with cover art by Robert McGinnis.

Number of books I really wanted to purchase: A dozen more, at the very least, among them David McCullough’s new book of essays, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For (Simon & Schuster), David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Doubleday), and Stephen Talty’s The Black Hand: The Epic War Between a Brilliant Detective and the Deadliest Secret Society in American History (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Oh, and a recently released crime novel that hasn’t already come across my desk: The Good Assassin, by Paul Vidich (Atria).

Number of books Amie-June purchased: Armloads—a few for herself, a variety of others for friends, several for her toddler son, and then a generous stack of paperbacks that she intends to install in the Little Free Library outside her house. I helped her pick out a few used mystery novels I thought would be broadly appealing.

Number of bookstores visited this year that I had never popped in to before: 3 (The Traveler; The Neverending Bookshop, a recently opened used-books specialist in the community of Bothell; and the new BookTree in Kirkland, east of Seattle).

Stores in which we spent the least time: We’d hoped to hang around each one for 20 minutes or more—long enough to know them better and show our respect for their participation in this daylong competition. However, two retailers—Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery, south of downtown Seattle, and Book Larder, a cookbook shop in the Fremont neighborhood, were so crowded (a consequence of their offering free food and drink) that we could do little more there than have our “passports” stamped, and get out again.

Stores in which I’d like to have spent some more time: Eagle Harbor Book Company; Seattle Mystery Bookshop in the Pioneer Square historic district (for reasons that any veteran follower of this blog will easily understand); and Queen Anne Book Company at the top of Queen Anne Hill, just north of downtown Seattle, which seems to have an especially well-curated selection of new books.

Quantity of gas consumed during the whole trip: A quarter-tank.

Number of complimentary cookies ingested during the excursion: Surely no more than 10. OK, maybe 12. Or 15.

Number of mimosas drunk: 1, by Amie-June at Liberty Bay Books. (I would have partaken as well, but I was doing the driving.)

Number of doughnuts consumed: 2, one by each of us (both chocolate-covered old fashioneds), from Sluy’s Poulsbo Bakery. Yum!

(Left) In addition to having her “passport” stamped, Amie-June asked each store to stamp her arm.

Number of sandwiches eaten: 2, one by each of us, acquired from The Cheesemonger’s Table in Edmonds. I had the Chicken Club, with grilled chicken breast, pancetta, Swiss cheese, tomato, and basil mayo on ciabatta bread.

Number of wrong turns: Only two this year. Thanks to Amie-June and her smart phone, we managed to avoid most navigating mishaps. Where we went wrong, it was usually because I didn’t hear her instructions clearly. Darn aging ears!

Lesson I swore to learn from last year, but didn’t: Take water along! After leaving Phinney Books in the Greenwood neighborhood (15 stamps down, 4 to go!), I suddenly found myself lightheaded and a bit nauseous. Fortunately, we’d only just invested in bottled water, and drinking some of that helped restore my equilibrium.

Lesson to remember for next year: Always double-check whether you’ve left your car in a pay-to-park space. ‘Nuff said.

Number of tequila shots drunk: 2, one by each of us, at Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill, where we concluded our circuit of shops at 7 p.m. and turned in our “passports”—with all 19 stamps!

Number of hours spent on the Champion Challenge: 12.5, an hour longer than last year. But then, we did swing by Amie-June’s parents’ house to drop off some Sluy’s doughnuts for her father.

Number of times I asked myself, “Why in the hell did you join this crazy escapade?”: 0, just as in 2016. If the “Champion Challenge” occurred more than once a year, I might feel differently. But 12 months between races allows me to recharge my batteries and forget any problems. Furthermore, having Amie-June along for the ride provided plenty of laughs and allowed us to share some thoughts on our respective lives. An altogether enjoyable journey!

I don’t know yet how many Seattleites completed the race this year. In 2015, the number was a mere 42; 2016 resulted in 120 winners. Each time Independent Bookstore Day comes around, there seems to be more publicity attending it, so there are probably more participants as well. Yet it’s a rather long investment of time, with plenty of opportunities for racers to ask themselves, “Why am I do this again?” And bumping the number of required stops up from 17 to 19 might have reduced the winner count this last Saturday. We shall see. Sometime during the next two or three weeks, winners are supposed to be invited to a concluding ceremony, during which they’ll pick up their 25-percent discount cards for the year. We’ll know then how many people made it all the way through.

READ MORE:Seattle Bookstore Day 2017: Champions’ Journey,” by Emily Adams (NW Book Lovers).


Matt said...

You've made me wish I could have gone along again. I love that your niece had her arm stamped. You two might have been the most merry party on the tour. It strikes me again how much this whole event reminds me of Stanley Kramer's "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World".

Jerry House said...

Congrats on your epic adventure!