On to Maryland! My initial internet search for bookstores in Maryland worried me: are all Maryland bookstores in shopping centers? Is all of Maryland merely a suburb of Washington, D.C.? Wait, wait! That can’t be true. There’s Annapolis, which I’ve visited. I found a lovely bookstore there, but it specializes in maritime books, not for me. Their page featured a lovely Robert Frost poem: The sun was warm but the wind was chill. You know how it is with an April day. Despite the fact that I was reading this on a very warm summer day, I appreciated the poem nonetheless.
My continued search brought up several bookstores in Baltimore, so I decided to go there. Turns out, my favorite is The Ivy Bookshop. Here’s a place I’d love to visit. The website describes the ideal bookseller as “literate personal shoppers, mind readers, therapists, and bartenders (non-judgmental advice without the booze)” I loved that! Especially a quote from a customer which said, “I stop in at the Ivy after work for my happy hour.” I’m pretty sure there’s no bar or bartender at the Ivy, but I can certainly understand the idea of getting buzzed on great literature.
Turns out the Ivy was voted “Baltimore’s Best Bookstore” by Baltimore Magazine and Baltimore City Paper. Its owner, Ann Berlin, has been in publishing since 1975, with all very impressive credentials including editing a publication for the Smithsonian. But, more than that, I’m interested that their booksellers are described as knowledgeable and friendly individuals who make a point of getting to know their customers’ personal preferences and recommending books based on that. I spend a little time cruising the book blog, the book recommendation of the day (both fiction and non-fiction) and then I’m definitely ready to make the call.
My call is answered by bookseller Nancy Chambers, who definitely fits the bill of “knowledgeable and friendly.” After I explain my project and ask for a recommendation (or two) of Maryland authors she likes, she immediately suggests Anne Tyler. Now, I have read several of Anne Tyler’s books, The Accidental Tourist being one of my all-time favorites. I’m charmed to learn that the author lives in the bookstore neighborhood, and that Nancy has been reading her for years, speaks of her like a friend. Nancy recommends Breathing Lessons which I have not read. She asks if she can call me back in a couple of hours after she has spent some time thinking over other possible recommendations and talking to her colleagues. Yes! This is great—I love it when booksellers are enthusiastic about my project and take the time to consider their recommendations.
Nancy and I chatted a bit about Baltimore before ending our call. I tell her I’ve never visited but have watched a few episodes of The Wire. She laughs and tells me that she hears that a lot but assures me that Baltimore is a great place to live and work – no more dangerous than any other city. Nancy is also tickled that I want to order books from The Ivy Bookshop when I could probably find the same books in Seattle. I explain that this is part of my quest – reading books from each state and supporting the independent bookstores in those states as I go along – and that I’m having as much fun talking to booksellers as I am reading the books they recommend. “It feels like my birthday whenever those packages of books arrive in my mailbox.” I say. She laughs, tells me she’ll call me back at three.
Nancy is right on time in calling me back. She still recommends her first choice – Anne Tyler, and she has added John Barth as her other suggestion, The Floating Opera and The End of the Road. Great! Send them to me, I say.
When the package from The Ivy Bookshop arrives a week later, I can’t help but smile. Nancy has taken the trouble to wrap each book in ivy paper with gold ribbon around. It truly does feel like my birthday now. There’s also a hand-written note: “Thank you! ENJOY!” I can’t wait to tear the wrapping off and get reading.