Montana bookstores are the comfort food of the book world. Walk through the doors of a shop like Fact and Fiction in Missoula, Chapter One in Hamilton, Elk River Books in Livingston, or even Books and Books here in Butte, and you'll soon realize you're in a place that values and cherishes the printed word. Sure, that can be said of most independent bookstores across the United States, but it's especially evident here in Big Sky Country. These are stores where you are guaranteed to not walk away empty-handed, thanks to the enthusiastic recommendations from behind-the-counter staff.
If Montana bookstores are comfort food for readers and writers, then The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman is the mashed potatoes and gravy on the plate. Ever since I moved back to this state in 2009, I've made it a point to stop in the store whenever I'm traveling east of Butte. The bookstore has been around since 1957, so that should tell you they're doing something right. Ariana Paliobagis and her crew make book-browsing something akin to a candy-store experience. I know I'm piling on the food metaphors here, but it's true that if you enter The Country Bookshelf hungry for something good to eat, you'll walk out the door a half hour later several pounds heavier due to the books tucked under your arm.
Ariana and events coordinator Laura Prindiville always set up some terrific readings and book signings as well (I've been to more than a few over the years). These author events nearly always take place on the second floor of the store, giving readers and listeners a grand panorama of the brightly-lit shelves below. Last night, I was privileged to be the one standing behind the podium with that commanding view of the store.
After a full day's work at the Day Job, I drove over Homestake Pass with Jean and we grabbed a quick salad at The Naked Noodle in downtown Bozeman before heading around the corner to The Country Bookshelf. Of course every author loves the rock star treatment (don't let our false modesty fool you), and so I was tickled to see this as I walked up to the store:
Though most of the details of the evening are now a happy, candy-colored blur in my mind, I think the reading went pretty well (Jean said I kept the rambling to a minimum and I didn't embarrass myself too badly). I read from Chapter 14 in Fobbit--a description of Captain Abe Shrinkle's reign as The Care Package King--and then took questions from the audience for about 20 minutes--like how I went about slimming the novel down to manageable size and whether or not I experienced culture shock when I deployed to Iraq.
|Laura, me and Ariana looking at the wrong camera|
a big fan of John Brandon's Arkansas when it came out several years ago, so adding his newest novel A Million Heavens was a quick and easy choice. I didn't even bother to turn the book over and look at the jacket copy before I swiped my credit card, that's how confident I was that this would be a good read. But now, on the morning after, I've finally had the chance to see what the book is about....and I am not disappointed. It looks like the finest kind of mind-trip:
On the top floor of a small hospital, an unlikely piano prodigy lies in a coma, attended to by his gruff, helpless father. Outside the clinic, a motley vigil assembles beneath a reluctant New Mexico winter—strangers in search of answers, a brush with the mystical, or just an escape. To some the boy is a novelty, to others a religion. Just beyond this ragtag circle roams a disconsolate wolf on his nightly rounds, protecting and threatening, learning too much. And above them all, a would-be angel sits captive in a holding cell of the afterlife, finishing the work he began on earth, writing the songs that could free him. This unlikely assortment—a small-town mayor, a vengeful guitarist, all the unseen desert lives—unites to weave a persistently hopeful story of improbable communion.The first sentence holds great promise as well: "The nighttime clouds were slipping across the sky as if summoned."
Stop. Read that again. Turn it over in your mouth, savor it, then swallow. Now, doesn't that taste good? There's plenty more like it on The Country Bookshelf's menu.