The Literati blog has been quiet for a couple of weeks in celebration of a birthday: I’m writing this with my newborn son napping against my clavicle. Every ordinary process–the grocery store, a shower, writing–is revised. Delightfully so, but with a certain deliberateness. For example: he just spit up, and much of this post was typed initially with one slow left hand.
Baby dude’s a tiny springtime animal who tucks his soft feet beneath his rump in a tidy plié, a baby rabbit, perhaps. When he’s hungry, which is often, I think of him as a benignly ferocious little lion. In her forthcoming book Little Labors, Rivka Galchen describes a newborn baby as a “puma.” Reading the book while enormously pregnant, Galchen’s comparison struck me as particularly apt, even more so after I met my child, a magnetic, bright force, bright and magnetic as the appearance of an exotic animal, and someone who, like any new life, who defies prior expectations. Each day, unfolding like a rosebud and growling. Today opening his eyes more than yesterday, tiny face rounder than last week, now sleeping in luxurious two or even three-hour chunks of time instead of the 40 minutes or so he’d snooze between declarations of hunger in his first days of life. Later on in Galchen’s book, the baby, slightly older, is a chicken. I can only guess what kind of chicken my child will be.
March is also the birthday of another springtime animal, Literati Bookstore. I remember anticipating the bookstore’s opening at the end of winter, 2013, walking down Washington past the green brick building. This is going to be so good! I had arrived in Ann Arbor in the last week of Borders, and about a year after the close of Shaman Drum. We didn’t have a general interest, literary-themed bookstore stocking new books in downtown Ann Arbor, and we needed one. So, of course I was correct–this is going to be so good, I thought, and, indeed, it is. But it was impossible to imagine the community of devoted customers and staff who would fill the store, and the individual kindnesses of these people, the charge in the air at packed readings in our event space, the writers who would launch their books here, bookseller Kelsey getting engaged inside these walls, or the bon mots our public typewriter would generate, which we would eventually paint on the side of the building. I mean, we all know this, but: the synopsis of the book before it’s out in the world has nothing on the experience of reading the dang thing page by page.
Co-Owner Mike wrote a beautiful letter to our customers in this month’s Events Newsletter, reflecting on three years of Literati, and remembering a job he had when he lived in New York, teaching tiny swimmers how to float.
These past three years have been a step-by-step process similar to those swimmers of mine learning to float: First, bubbles (sign the lease, get the loan). Then, immerse the nose, cheeks, maybe a watery goggle or two (surround yourself with the best possible employees, partner with The Espresso Bar, curate books as best you can). Learn to be comfortable, hold one’s breath, reach, kick, flutter, and stick the whole head underwater, aware of that nearby wall (expand sections, build inventory, smooth out logistics, pay down loan). And eventually, you scoop your hands and put your face all the way in. Lastly, you take a big breath, stare down the unchartered territory, push off, and swim.
We’re celebrating the beginning of year four for the bookstore next weekend with readings by past and current staff and our friend Ray McDaniel, and by donating 100% of the day’s sales to SafeHouse Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending domestic violence and sexual assault in Washtenaw County. Please join us. (I think we’re a chicken now, a chicken that can swim.)