Thursday, January 05, 2006

Chronicle: Christmas in Denver

My brain is still a little mushy (the result of continuing sinus infection and not enough sleep), but I'm slowly working up to speed, and I can't wait any longer to chronicle the book-related adventures of the holidays. The ALP and I managed to get a ride to the airport despite the strike, and looked into the bookstores in the Cincinatti and Denver airports before making it to the relatives' house. His folks, his sister, brother and sister-in-law, and the little ones were very welcoming, and it was a wonderfully laid-back holiday. One of the highlights of my vacation was reading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN by Maurice Sendak to a two-year-old about five times apiece. I may have enjoyed/understood Max and Mickey's adventures more than he did, but his continuing interest was very gratifying. It's not often I have the chance to indulge my love of kid stuff -- having small relatives has its advantages.

Of course the ALP and I deluged the kids with books on Christmas morning -- one can hardly blame them if the books didn't have the immediate appeal of, say, a complete kid-size tool set or a chewy rattle, but they'll last. (Richard Scarry's BEST WORD BOOK EVER was getting some play before we left.) We didn't receive any books ourselves (except for some cool cookbooks), though we were given a ton of other great stuff (including a supercool digital camera, which I'll try to use to spruce up the ol' blog as soon as I figure it out). The ALP's mom actually shares the opinion expressed by Joe Queenan in the Christmas Day New York Times Book Review, that it's a bad idea to give surprise books to the book-obsessed, because they already know what they want to read. They're probably right. Guess we'll have to put together one of those online wishlists if we want to get books next year (though I'll be doing it through Powell's and not through Amazon).

In between the family time, we were set loose to explore the city, and on one day drove to neighboring Boulder. Denver seems to be a great town for bookstores -- we walked past at least half a dozen on our limited ramblings -- and Boulder, as a well-to-do college town, even more so. I admit that my New York snobbery was challenged by the obvious cultural vibrancy of these Colorado towns -- Denver in particular has amazing architecture, some great museums, and a shopping district to rival SoHo (or at least 5th Avenue). It's a very cool mid-sized town, and I can see why the ALP's relatives moved there.

And of course, there's the Tattered Cover! We made a beeline for the LoDo store (that's Lower Downtown for you non-Denverites) the first time we had a minute free, and boy did it live up to expectations. It's a two-story brick warehouse space (there's a poster inside paying tribute to the owner of the factory it used to be), lined with real wood shelves and green carpet, dotted with mismatched chairs, and filled with informative but not overwhelming signage pointing out sections, featured titles, sale books, upcoming events and special features. Computers are scattered about for the use of the staff, who looked a bit frazzeled on December 23, understandably, but were still helpful and polite.

Almost coolest of all for me was the massive event space in a wing of the second floor: a huge empty room with a stage at one end, quiet and empty the day we visited but lined with hundreds of photos of the authors who have read there. I walked around on the creaking floors, looking for names and faces I recognized, reading the signs and flyers about Tattered Cover's event series, give-back programs, book clubs, recommendations, and other vibrant staples of a well-run independent. Honestly, I got so excited I had to go to the bathroom (and of course they have a public one, the entrance of which is the location of all the free community flyers and periodicals to pick up while you're waiting -- brilliant!)

I even bought something while I was there. The Tattered Cover remainder books (labeled "Bargain") are dispersed throughout the store, but I found my bargain on a Staff Picks display -- a hardcover edition of THE MIRACLE LIFE OF EDGAR MINT for $5.98. Since other bookish friends have recommended this book several times, I figured the TC employee's plug (and the amazing price) were the final deciding factor. I took it to the register, along with a TC mug and a huge handful of those free handouts (including an amazing newsletter called The Reading Glass). The nice employee started to direct me to the free giftwrapping station, but when I sheepishly admitted I was buying for myself, he said "Perfect!" (Probably grateful not to have to wrap something else.) The ALP picked up a collection of R.L. Stevenson's essays, also at remainder price, and while we saw at least a dozen more books we wanted (including the massive new Calvin and Hobbes collection), we reminded ourselves that we'd have to schlep everything home in a suitcase, and so abstained.

It was a beautiful place, though -- I wish I could become a regular. What I can do is scour those free materials to learn about what an independent bookstore can offer to its community. I'm sure TC has its own share of issues, problems, and necessary changes -- the buzz now is that they'll be closing one of their branches, possibly to open another one in a newly renovated theater -- but what's inspiring is that they haven't rested on their laurels. They continue to work to maintain and expand their customer base, to offer the best of what's out there, and to creatively incorporate public events into the library-like reading space.

Next post I'll review the books I've managed to read in that last couple of weeks -- also a big part of my holiday experience. Please forgive me if I'm less sparkling than usual -- I feel like my brain is an out-of-date computer, whirring and humming wildly to accomplish the simplest of tasks, and my stamina is kind of low. I'm going to try to get lots of rest this weekend, and I'll be back with those book reviews as soon as I can. Happy 2006!