Monday, January 4, 2010

Of books, bullets and bad ideas...

There's a great scene in the movie "High Fidelity (and the brilliant Nick Hornby novel from which it was adapted) in which John Cusack's character, while going through his LP collection, asks one of those chicken/egg questions that bedevil us all:

"What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"

For me it was always "is my fascination with books the reason for writing or merely writing's result?"

That question is probably as unanswerable as Hornby's, but I have been collecting and coveting books from as far back as I can remember. I didn't, however, make the conscious decision to become a writer until I was almost out of college, so I guess my money is on books.

At any rate, one of the ideas I've toyed with from time to time is opening a used bookshop. But not just any bookshop. What I envision is a bookshop where you can browse the stacks for books, then walk over to the gun rack to check out the used shotguns or maybe take a look at the vintage Ambassadeurs in the reel case.

Yep, a combination used book, gun and tackle shop. The kind of place where you can walk out the door with an obscure first-printing, a box of AAs and a classic pre-owned baitcasting reel, all in the same bag. In essence a literary and sporting junk shop. I think it sounds cool, and it's the kind of quirky, off-beat place I've always been drawn to. Not too stuffy, tradition-bound or pretentious, but not too weird. Just a mellow, funky spot for freethinkers, hippies, gun nuts, literate rednecks, bookworms, fishing bums or anyone else who possesses an artistic bent and an appreciation for firepower and spinnerbaits.

But would it work? I have no idea. Certainly not where I live now, and maybe no where at all. The idea may be a little too weird, a little too stupid, or a lot too both. But let's face it: writing, especially in today's post-literate culture, is quite frankly, a bullshit way to make (or try to make) a living, and becoming more so every day. As much as I appreciate and enjoy the work right now, I just can't see myself writing 300-word link-driven rants and web-based, photo-heavy features forever.

The problem is that writing, professionally speaking, is all I've ever known and I'm not sure how successful I might be in re-inventing myelf as something else. But a used book-gun-tackle shop would require no re-invention at all. That's pretty much who and what I am. And it certainly wouldn't prevent me from continuing to write. In fact, it'd probably help tremendously. Surrounding yourself with great writing can inspire you in a way that surrounding yourself with the cubicles of other white-collar drones cannot.

It's an intriguing idea, made more so by the fact that I'm currently reading Larry McMurtry's memoir, aptly titled "Books" which chronicles his own fascination with books and his second career as a book scout and bookshop owner. Of course, it helps quite a bit if - as McMurtry certainly has -  you've already made your millions as a successful writer, but hey, I'm dreaming here. No need to inject any financial reality.

I even have a bookshop name thought up, which I won't reveal just in case I get a wild hair and decide to register the domain, because of course any shop nowadays is pretty much required to have a Web presence.

But what about the physical presence? Any suggestions on potential relocation sites? Here are my requirements...

1. It must be a small to mid-sized university town not too close to a major metropolitan areas. Big enough to have some cultural opportunities. Educated enough to support a brick-and-mortar shop location. Not so big that I find myself routinely screaming obscenities while stuck in traffic.

2. It must have open space. I'm not opposed to mountains, I even like them when balanced with plains, but remember where I was born and raised. Oklahoma. I'm a prairie rat and any place I decide to relocate to must have some open space or I start going a little wiggy.

3. It's gotta have good bird and duck hunting and lots of public land on which to hunt them. Elk would be nice but not required and deer are of course everywhere so that's a moot point, but anywhere I live must have some upland and waterfowl hunting or I'll be miserable.

4. It's gotta have decent fishing. That's the main complaint I have about my current location. It's arid and good water is rare. Fortunately great fishing is not too far away, so I manage.

Any sugggestions?

***If you're curious, the bookshop in the pic is Shakespeare and Company in Paris. And if you could imagine that picture with a few gun racks along one wall, a few old reels in a glass case and other various and sundry sporting esoterica lying around, that's my idea of perfection.


  1. Just out of curiosity, where are you now?

  2. Ha, I would've guessed that was the basement of the Strand in NYC.

    I hear you on the whole writer business. Anyone who's still making an actual living at it is one lucky so-and-so.

    So, basically, you need a place with a high concentration of the kind of people who read your blog. Hmmmmm. Not sure I'd know where to start looking for that.

  3. Reading along I kept envisioning a college town in Montana or SoDak. I hear that Idaho has lots of sporting opportunities. Anyway, excellent idea, good luck pulling it off.

  4. The only answer to all your criteria is Bozeman
    Montana. The scenario seems so appropriate to Bozeman, I would be surprised it there wasn't one there now.

  5. Good luck. Seems like a worthwhile endeavor, and I applaud most of those that I come across.

    I always like your photography, by the way.

  6. Thanks for the comments, all. Mark (this blog) I'm in Oklahoma.

    Bozeman is a nice city, as is Missoula. Both university towns in great locations. My dad lives in Montana (Libby) so I've given Missoula or Kalispell much consideration...

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  8. Too quick on the trigger on that last one. Good fishing AND open space makes it a bit tougher. Texas might have something that fits. Did you ever consider opening two locations and just go all out on the fishing in the second?

  9. Mark, I grew up in Norman and I actually think my bookshop/tackle shop/gunshop idea might fly there. The problem is, the funky little college town I grew up in is now the third-largest city in the state and all the places I hunted and fished as a kid are long-gone. I was there just this past weekend, as all my family is still there, and it was just too...peopled.

    Stillwater, I think would work, too. Far enough away from the OKC metro, college town. But both my wife and I went to OU and Stillwater's hostile territory for Sooners.

  10. There's your conundrum. Finding a town of literate people who don't like to hunt and fish might be doable, but finding a town of literate people who like to buy guns and tackle and not use them is a challenge.

    You'd almost be looking for a resort town like Aspen (I know, not flat enough) where people come and spend their money by the Hummerload and leave. That or just suppress the Sooner in you...

  11. @NorCal Cazadora: The bookstore in the picture is too tidy and not claustrophic enough to be the basement of the Strand.

    @Chad: I scratched that itch--partly--by starting to sell books on Amazon, thus relieving pressure on the walls of my house.

    Now I can wander around in an old sweater, sipping from a mug of coffee and muttering to myself, just as though I had an used bookstore--but it's invisible!

  12. If your venture takes wings, and you care to add handmade selfbows and perhaps coffee (my conceptual "Beans and Bows" coffee shop/archery cafe), let me know! I can suggest Kansas State, Oklahoma State, or U of Arkansas for nearby universities to offer a proper degree of funk while still nicely co-located with hunting and fishing.

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