Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Speeding Through Reading

I take a brief break with my veteran “Champion Challenge” partner and book-loving niece, Amie-June Brumble (right), to snap a selfie in front of Ada’s Technical Books, on Capitol Hill.

Yes, I know, it’s been more than two weeks since I celebrated Seattle Independent Bookstore Day (April 27). But what with a busy work schedule and various family commitments, it’s been hard until now to find enough free hours to compose a recap of my experiences.

As I mentioned in a previous post on this page, I had arranged to participate that day in the IBD’s annual “Champion Challenge” alongside my favorite niece, Amie-June Brumble, with whom I undertook this same venture two years ago. The goal of the Champion Challenge is for readers to visit a designated number of bookshops over the course of a business day, at each of which the contestant is supposed to collect a unique stamp on his or her official Passport Map. Everyone who finishes with a completed passport wins a 25 percent discount at all of those stores for the following year—a pretty favorable deal, if you go through a lot of books annually (as I do).

When I first joined in this frenzied competition, back in 2016—the second year it took place—the goal was to stop by at least 17 of the 21 participating indie stores. (For shops with more than one location on the map, you only needed to accumulate a single stamp.) That number jumped to 19 of 23 in 2017, and this year, Champion Challenge players had to pay calls on 21 out of the 26 stores taking part. People who didn’t want to engage in the full bookstore crawl could still be involved: those who visited three or more stores could turn in their passports for a 30-percent-off coupon, good for a onetime use at any of the shops joining in this adventure.

(Left) Cover of the IBD Passport Map.

Having undertaken the Champion Challenge before, Amie-June and I determined to follow our customary and successful route. This took us in a spiraling, clockwise path through the Seattle suburbs first, then north across downtown and the city’s northern neighborhoods, and had us finishing in the Capitol Hill district, east of downtown. Just as I have done before, I offer—below—my brief account of Seattle’s 2019 Independent Bookstore Day, recalled in statistics and incidents.

Time we started out: Amie-June picked me up in front of my house at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. Since we had two additional bookstores to reach by day’s end, she wanted to catch the first (6:10) ferry departing downtown Seattle for Bainbridge Island, on the west side of Puget Sound, where a couple of shops—Eagle Harbor Book Company and The Traveler—sit across from one another on the main street of Winslow, Bainbridge’s town center. A coterie of women also embarking on this Champion Challenge boarded the ferry with us, and passed out fresh doughnuts to anyone who wished one, for as long as they lasted (not long enough)—a very friendly touch. We reached Winslow just before the two bookshops opened, at the unusual hour of 7 a.m. I was impressed by Eagle Harbor’s arrangements, which had visitors entering through one of its doors (where pre-stamped Passport Maps were available) and then exiting another, thus maintaining a comfortable flow. As would be our pattern throughout the day, Amie-June and I collected our necessary passport stamps and then spent a bit of time perusing the offerings at each business before moving on.

First books purchased: As might have been predicted, Amie-June began to satisfy her book hunger much earlier than yours truly. While at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, on the west side of Puget Sound, she snapped up We Are the Gardeners, a children’s work by Joanna Gaines, as well as an adult novel titled Palisades Park, by Alan Brennert. I waited three more stops—until Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park—before purchasing Nature’s Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present, by Philipp Blom (Liveright).

Number of books purchased along the way: For myself, I picked up three: the aforementioned Nature’s Mutiny; Making Monte Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle, by Mark Braude; and a 1974 novelization of the Paul Newman/Robert Redford film The Sting, by “Robert Weverka,” aka Robert McMahon. I didn’t know the last of those existed, nor was I looking for it; but BookTree in Kirkland, on the east side of Lake Washington, had a copy and I couldn’t resist, after having enjoyed other of Weverka’s TV and movie tie-in novels.

Number of books I really wanted to buy: A conservative estimate would be eight … or maybe 10 … OK, perhaps a dozen, or more. Among those I passed up (at least temporarily) were Tom Clavin’s latest biography, Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier's First Gunfighter (St. Martin’s Press); journalist-historian Jack Kelly’s The Edge of Anarchy: The Railroad Barons, the Gilded Age, and the Greatest Labor Uprising in America (St. Martin’s Press); and the recent re-release of Erle Stanley Gardner’s 1942 Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Careless Kitten (American Mystery Classics).

Number of books Amie-June purchased: Twelve—which she says was “fewer than I expected.” The last time we ran this Champion Challenge together, she acquired more than 30 books along the way. Back then, though, she was still stocking the Little Free Library outside her house. Now, several years into that project, she has teetering stacks of paperbacks still waiting to cycle in and out of her streetside athenaeum. The works she picked up this year were only for herself and her sweet, book-loving (of course) 3-year-old son.

Number of bookstores visited this year that I had never popped in to before: Only two—Arundel Books, a rather beautiful establishment in the historic Pioneer Square district, and Page 2 Books, a used-book-lovers’ mecca in Burien, a southern ’burb of Seattle.

Food ingested during our travels: With our too-early start, I found no time for breakfast. It wasn’t until we reached the small town of Kingston (no relation) and the terminal for our ferry ride back east across Puget Sound, that we stopped at a McDonald’s for Egg McMuffins—not my favorite repast, but when hunger strikes hard, high-minded disinclinations toward junk food go right out the window. Fortunately, we found finer fare around lunchtime at a sandwich shop called Homegrown, located right next to Island Books, on Mercer Island, just east of downtown Seattle. There were surprisingly fewer cookies and other quick treats available along our path this year, but we did pick up a few Oreo-style sweets at Magnolia’s Bookstore, in the Magnolia neighborhood, and some Jordan almonds at Phinney Books, in Greenwood. Oh, and let’s not forget the Starbucks mocha I bought about halfway through this trip.

First frustrating event of the day: We just barely missed catching the 8:40 a.m. ferry we’d hoped to take from Kingston back to Edmonds, north of Seattle. This meant we had to wait another hour for the next sailing. Oh, well, at least this gave us a chance to peacefully eat those Egg McMuffins.

(Right) The Passport Map’s checklist of participating stores. Click to enlarge.

Second frustrating event of the day: We finally found our way to Page 2 Books at about 2 p.m., only to encounter a small group of people who were already handing in their completed passports. What the hell? By then, we had accumulated only nine stamps! The only way to have finished this course so quickly, we surmised, was to have a designated driver along—one who wasn’t participating in the Challenge, and who could wait immediately outside each shop (perhaps in a loading zone) and then speed everyone on to the next destination—and to spend no more time in the bookstores than was absolutely required to have the passports stamped. Of course, that defeats one of the principal incentives the bookstores have in participating in this event, which is to introduce new customers to their bookshelf selections, invite them to buy a volume or two, and entice them to return again later. Those folks who finished the course so early missed out on the fun of browsing. And, really, why the rush? The first-place finisher in this event receives no more points or plaudits than the last-place finisher.

Stores in which we’d like to have spent some more time: Amie-June was quite impressed by the children’s reading selection at Island Books, so she’d have been happy to while away the afternoon there. I was sad that we had to dash in and out of Arundel Books so quickly (due to downtown parking shortages); I’ll have to go back sometime in the future to see more of what it calls its “eclectic stock” of previously owned and collectible editions. Another place I didn’t loiter long enough this year was Queen Anne Book Company, immediately north of downtown, which always boasts a thoughtfully curated selection of general works, and since our last visit has witnessed a major remodel of its next-door coffee shop. It would have been nice to spend some time in there reading from my new purchases.

Stores with the noticeably nicest salespeople: Liberty Bay Books; Edmonds Bookshop; Ada’s Technical Books, on Capitol Hill; and Phinney Books, in the Greenwood neighborhood.

Store I would like to have visited, but didn’t: Madison Books, which I recently had a small hand in launching in the Madison Park neighborhood. Because it’s owned by the same folks behind Phinney Books, it wasn’t necessary that we pay a call at Madison, and it would’ve been a bit out of our way. Yet Independent Bookstore Day was also that establishment’s opening day, so I’d like to have joined in the celebration, if only fleetingly.

Number of Jell-O shots ingested: Two, one for each of us at the Elliott Bay Book Company, the final stop on our daylong odyssey. In recent years, Elliott Bay (formerly located in Pioneer Square, but now on Capitol Hill) has served tequila shots to the many people who finish their Champion Challenge there. For some reason, however, the decision was made this time around to switch to Jell-O shots in various fruit flavors. I had the alcoholic variety, spiked with vodka; Amie-June, since she is currently pregnant with her second son, opted instead for the non-alcoholic version. In both cases, we had trouble sucking our finish-line treats out of their small plastic cups. Not quite as cheerful a conclusion to our journey as tequila shots would’ve been.

Lesson I learned successfully from the last two years: Take along a full water bottle. You might be surprised to discover how easily one can become dehydrated, speeding around town with the singular goal of gawking at more books than you can afford.

Number of hours spent on this year’s Champion Challenge: 14, which was an hour and a half longer than the last time Amie-June and I undertook the venture. But then, we did have two more stops to make.

Number of miles traveled: 13.4, not including the two ferry rides across Puget Sound. No wonder this endeavor is so time-consuming!

Despite the arduousness of this enterprise, I’m told that 636 people were as successful as Amie-June and I in finishing the Champion Challenge (up from 500 in 2018). Another 1,034 people are said to have visited at least three shops on Independent Bookstore Day. I’ll be able to see and meet many of them this coming Saturday, May 18, when Queen Anne Book Company hosts an all day (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) celebration for the finishers, during which they will receive either their Champion Cards or their discount coupons.

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