As a child, my life was strangely devoid of bookstores. In my hometown, bookstores were akin to tattoo parlors. Every so often, a new one would appear, seeped in seediness. While the name and location varied, the unpleasant inventory always remained the same: outdated Encyclopedias (“Hey, why does the entry for Presidents of the United States of America end with Van Buren?”), awkwardly passé joke books (HA. HA… Wait, Brazil Nuts used to be called WHAT?!) old romance novels (To me, selling used romance novels is on par with selling used underwear), and boxes of crusty magazines that had obviously spent years stacked up next to somebody’s toilet (C’mon, if something’s been sitting next to your shitter for years have the decency to throw it away, don’t try to make a buck off it). And then, before you could say Highland Rogue, the bookstore in question would disappear, a new tattoo parlor would take over its space, and I would be left wondering what had happened to all those ratty Encyclopedias.
Things were only slightly better at the nearby Zanesville Mall, which was home to a Waldenbooks. Squeezed in between Sears and JoAnn Fabrics, regardless of what its name might suggest, there was really nothing Transcendental about this particular chain bookstore. I remember it as being slightly larger and slightly less charming than Thoreau’s cabin.
With such a pathetic history with bookstores, it is no surprise that my first trip to the Book Loft was something of a revelation. The Book Loft is your quintessential labyrinthine bookstore, billing itself as having 32 rooms of books. But this description is misleading as many of these rooms are actually hallways, narrow closets, and vestibules. For example, the General Fiction section begins in West Wing Room 12, which is really a long hallway. The section runs all the way to Marian Keyes, after which it spills into West Wing Room 8, which is really a landing. Encircling this landing as if it were a cul-du-sac, the section passes back through the doorway at Gary Phillips; but instead of continuing down the original hallway, the alphabetical shelving makes a hard left turn into West Wing Room 9, which is labeled General Fiction & Romance. In this tiny room, the Romance novels are herded into the center, while the General Fiction shelves hug the walls, as if trying to avoid an obnoxious co-worker who makes too many sexual puns. After a sharp right turn, the section continues to Wendy Wax (is that really someone’s name?), before spilling into West Wing Room 10, which is where the section ends.
The final few inches of General Fiction can be dangerous. As the section nears the end of the alphabet, it is squeezed in front of the attic door, which is where the surplus inventory is kept. Also, a step too far will land you in the section labeled “Fantasy,” but what I like to think of as “Guaranteed Virginity.” The reason why I’m so familiar with this location is because, as a teenager, this is the exact spot where my shelf browsing would end. At the time, my favorite authors were Kurt Vonnegut and John Updike. (OK, Vonnegut makes sense, but what teenager claims John Updike as a favorite author?) And I still remember the shock when, years later, I went in search of my two now-former favorite authors, only to discover that they had both been moved to the Literature section. I quickly deduced the reason behind the move: death. This has become my most benign way of thinking about personal annihilation: death is the moment when the Book Loft moves your books from General Fiction to Literature.
In light of my long personal history with the Book Loft, I was thrilled when the store agreed to co-host Humboldt: Or, The Power of Positive Thinking’s release party. (It’s this Sunday 2:00 pm at MoJoe Lounge.)
And yes, I know the exact spot in General Fiction where my novel will snuggle in: West Wing Room 8, middle row, bottom shelf. I’m just below Haruki Murakami, who rather rudely takes up an entire shelf and a half by himself. No, it’s not prime real estate, but if me, Ann Napolitano, and Sena Jeter Naslund agree to band together and churn out a few novels at Joyce Carol Oates speed (she has a new novel! I mean: a new new novel!), we can easily propel ourselves into the neighboring shelf, which offers much better visibility. And I know this for a fact because that’s the exact shelf where, as a sophomore in college, I bought a copy of Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato.