I know Connecticut is beautiful — from the countryside to the shore. I’ve seen it myself. My online search for an independent bookstore here pulls me to the shore and specifically to Madison, Connecticut, home of R. J. Julia Booksellers. Find them here: http://www.rjjulia.com/ I fell in love with this bookstore as soon as I saw their website. The masthead of the shop is a quaint rendering of the storefront in summer — all old-fashioned window panes, gas lamps and tables of books out front. And their motto: A Great Place to Meet Books — I love that! I find myself clicking around to find out about the store’s history. R. J. Julia has been around for over twenty years. The owner Roxanne Coady and her husband Kevin purchased an abandoned old brick building on the main street in Madison, Connecticut which, in an earlier life, was home to Nick’s Bar & Grill. With the goal of moving permanently to Connecticut and turning the old building into a place where words matter, where writer meets reader, where the ambiance and selection and merchandising of books creates an atmosphere that is welcoming and presents the opportunity for discovery. Nice. And when I read this: We are fiercely committed to putting the right book in the right hand, I give them a call.
The woman who picks up the phone is pleasant and courteous. I explain my project and she’s interested but asks if she can call me back since there’s is a line at the checkout. I hear convivial murmuring in the background and imagine myself in that line. Of course, I say, and give her my number. When she calls back, I’m at the office and a little distracted. Nevertheless, she’s excited about my project and quite clear about the books she’s recommending. First, she mentions Wally Lamb’s I Know this Much Is True and I think about that but reject it because I tried and rejected an earlier novel of his a few years ago as too depressing. I’ll probably give this acclaimed author another chance, but not right now. Next, she mentions Alice Hoffman and I perk up — I have read something by Hoffman and ask which one she’s recommending. It’s called Skylight Confessions (haven’t read it) it takes place right in Madison, Connecticut where R. J. Julia is located, and that sounds great to me. Next, she recommends The Ice Storm by Rick Moody. Another author I have not read but feel I should know, since this novel of his has also been made into a movie. We agree that she will send those two along and we chat briefly about her community, Madison, which she enthusiastically suggests I visit. You’d love it! She assures me and I believe her. When I look at a map of Connecticut, I discover that Madison is right next to Guilford and realize that I must have passed very near to this place a few years ago when my brother and his new wife took us to the shore not too far from their house. Funny how the longer I live, the more I feel like a character in a Russian novel — all those chance meetings and coincidences.
I find myself returning to R. J. Julia’s website frequently as I wait for my package of books to arrive — it’s filled with recommendations, lists of events (over 350 per year) and bios of the booksellers. Now I’m sorry I didn’t ask the name of the person I spoke with. Note to self — in the future, find out who you’re talking to! The owner of the shop, Roxanne Coady, also writes a column, Dear Reader, and I find myself returning to that more than once because I like the tone of her writing and because it makes me feel a little more connected to this place which is almost three thousand miles from where I’m writing. Now for the best part — unpack those books and get reading!