Gold Beach Books beckons us in through its glass doors, their orange logo somehow evoking the 1970s. On the lower floor, several rows of leatherbound volumes rippled out to dusty, fraying hardbacks. My fiancée and I browsed through these until she pulled me from my perusal of the children’s books (Richard Egielski’s Louis the Fish stood out; an Education textbook on Early Language Intervention) to show me what surely could have doubled as a prop of itself in a depression-era, culinary-themed play. It was thirty dollars. So instead, the Little House cookbook she already held in her hand would be coming home with us. And I needed that textbook I saw on the way over here. Ten minutes in and we were ready for coffee and something sweet.
At the table, I informed her I was feeling a depressing nostalgia. My dad collected and hoarded books (“…not willing that any should perish…”) and in many ways, the showroom floor felt to me like a waking dream tinged with nightmare. We shared a blueberry muffin and I sampled a sip of her latte. The caffeine in my americano, coupled with the her understanding, helped to dampen and dissolve the molasses-like misery flowing over me since I saw my reflection outside the glass doors. We got up to continue perusing.
A warning sign exhorted patrons to keep lids on their drinks as I made to retrieve the stack of books we left outside the coffeeshop (“Powell’s let’s you take five in with you.”). A stack that included the aforementioned text on language intervention as well as a large volume on vintage movie posters. Nearer the elevator, newly-arrived books of any and every genre greeted us. I lingered for a few minutes looking for authors I recognized. But, true to the first banner in the entryway, the second floor was indeed a “book paradise.” She got up there before I had and had procured a half-dozen books on words and language (The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate, et al.). She showed them to me as I arrived.
The walls are emblazoned with literati quotes and Emerson’s expression still resonated in me—of books needing a year from publication before he gave them any notice (It’ll be a year in January for me.). I sat down at the large, wood table, took the lid off my americano and sipped. The titles in the Mystery section behind her lent more gray to the atmosphere: Quicksand; Cry Me a Killer; City of the Dead. It wasn’t until—as the caffeine and the emotional clarity took full effect—that I decided to rearrange old Dick Francis’ titles according to the spectrum. I began to feel at home, like my normal self, you understand. A bookstore will do that to you; just you wait.
Waist-high shelves around the ledge overlooking the first floor promised more tomes on language, words and linguistics. I still have yet to look over there. As I am human, thrilled with the mundane and the familiar, the first thing I have to see is how well Gibson is stocked in what would be the Science-Fiction section, or, failing that, General Fiction. But, true to the dreamlike state in which I found myself upon entering, I was unable to find any familiar mental purchase. It was amplified up here on the quiet second floor. Another, different, William Gibson featured in the ‘G’s on the wall with The Cobweb. I had no interest. Continuing along the wall, I noticed older editions of familiar titles or with different covers, very simply, as well as books by authors with whom I was acquainted but that I didn’t recognize. Everything else was new to me in spite of being old. I was hit with wave after wave of Seventies, Eighties, Nineties. Only Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in its well known orange and blue served to indicate his popularity in this sea of rarities in this two-story bookshop on the Oregon Coast. Furthering the weirdness, Tawni O’Dell’s Back Roads spine was the inverse to Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties. What’s new may not be old yet but what’s old is definitely new.
I made my way to the “Biscuit Showroom” but found instead a five-thousand dollar copy of East of Eden along with a foot-thick, brown corduroy-covered dictionary for a mere two-hundred and fifty dollars. I would need (and indeed get) a picture with this hefty tome before we left—whenever that was.
After about three hours, having winnowed down the books she and I needed, we were ready to go. While all were old, they were new to me—and she. Downstairs, and on the way back to the children’s department to reshelve the early language textbook, I saw an old, well-loved-yet-long-lost picture book from my childhood: Detective Arthur, Master Sleuth. At five bucks, I regained a piece of my past. In a library, you must borrow and return. But a bookstore—used or otherwise, you get to keep it.
My fiancée and I are getting married in October. We’re in the middle of one of the worst forest fires in recent history—the sun outside an orange disc in a gray sky. If the next season promises renewal, at least it will bring some fresh air. I realized talking with her on both floors that we (I) have a propensity for the familiar, as I mentioned. So much was new in spite of being old that it got confusing. Yes, when I reached the second floor, I was struck anew with the futility of writing a novel in a world where stories come and go and then collect dust—to say nothing of the feeling I worked through on the first floor. But it’s not good to stop there. Life is beautiful and so is she. I still may not have all the answers to my past and in spite of the odd spate or bout of darkness, words do indeed work. Books, covers, font, all of it. They hold their secrets as well as their answers and are ready to yield them up anew.