Last Stop, Cockfosters

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There’s a scene in the old European Family Vacation movie where Chevy Chase rams into a car while driving through England on the wrong side of the road and an old British man gets out and, instead of being furious and cursing him, jovially says he was done a favor because the car was old anyway, and he thanks Chevy Chase for destroying it to the point that he will be able to buy a new one.  Until my visit to the UK, I never realized why this was funny, but it’s true, the British are unfailingly polite.  Even the announcements on the train are polite, “Mind the gap,” one will say so you don’t step into the eight inch space between the train and the platform.  “Last stop, Cockfosters,” politely, with nary a snicker.  And when my husband, in a rare fit of indecision, got hung up in the door while trying to decide if we were at the right station, the kindest, most non-judgmental voice said mildly, “Someone is interfering with the closing of the door.”  The train door itself was not so kind and left rubber track marks on the side of Kevin’s face and ear, but the announcement was polite.

My daughter Megan has immersed herself in this kinder, gentler culture.  Before I place something in the recycling bag, to be picked up outside her door, I am to rinse it or shake out the crumbs.  In other words, make sure the garbage is clean so as not to offend the handlers.  (There are no trash cans on the street due to bombings that occurred here in the past.)  Megan’s flat, in the heart of a busy Chelsea neighborhood, is noisy with traffic, but absent of horns and shouts from the drivers. Even emergency sirens are only used in bursts to get through traffic, then politely turned off.  On the street are painted reminders to “Look Left” or “Look Right,” as it would not be proper to step in front of an unexpected vehicle.  If you happen to be in a museum at closing time, there is no obnoxious loud speaker announcement, no “five minutes to closing,” just a guard who waits patiently at the door until people move on.

Restaurant service is quite different from home.  Wait staff are paid normal wages and do not rely on tips.  Though restaurants will suggest a 12% service charge which is printed on the bill, it isn’t mandatory, and you are not expected to leave anything more than that.  One waitress asked me to pay up front or at least hand over my credit card until the meal came, but she said it so politely that I paid without question.  In London, you will not be hovered over.  No “Hi, I’m Bambi, and I will be your server today!” No fake intimacy with the Brits.  One day last week, I finished the book I was reading, an advanced reader’s copy of the new Mitford book by Jan Karon, while

Jan Karon's Newest, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Jan Karon’s Newest, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

eating lunch at a café.  I asked my waitress if she would like it, and she enthusiastically accepted, thanked me several times and said she would read it straightaway.  She was fair-skinned with auburn hair, a pretty girl in her twenties, and she didn’t tell me her name.  I wished I’d had a FoxTale bookmark to put inside, but then decided that might have been considered too forward.  The American tendency to act with the expectation of return is diminished here, and it’s refreshing.

John Sandoe (Books) LTD

John Sandoe (Books) LTD

Yesterday I visited John Sandoe (Books) Ltd, a pleasant walk from Megan’s flat down King’s Road.  It was a beautiful little store on three levels with creaky wood floors and narrow staircases.  Once again, there was no immediate interaction when I came in, but my request for information about how the store was laid out was answered in full, and the clerk went so far as to put a book in my hands when he saw me looking over the titles of Haruki Murakami.  While I browsed, an older gentleman came in seeking a recommendation for a gift, and the clerk—a young man in his twenties—was once again polite and helpful.  The older Brit was clearly a regular customer, as there was conversation about putting the purchase on his account and talk of ordering another book.  “Can you ring me up when it comes in,” he asked.  But of course.  Like in the states, booksellers in London order from wholesalers to meet special orders, and the turnaround time was just a matter of days.   After a couple hours of leisurely browsing, I purchased The Hunting of The Snark, An Agony in Eight Fits, by Lewis Carroll, a beautiful little hardcover book for my new Brit Lit Shelf and Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (the British version.)

Because we have tickets for The Comedy of Errors at the Globe, l wanted a small version to refresh my knowledge, but John Sandoe was out of it.  So was the next bookstore I tried (perhaps all the ticketholders had the same idea,) so I reluctantly tried Waterstone Books, the London equivalent to a Barnes and Noble.  In fact, it was laid out exactly like a chain store in the U.S. with “Buy One, Get One Half Off” books for many popular titles.  Among them was our friend Tom Franklin again, but this time A Tilted World was categorized as New Crime.  Jamie Mason’s Three Graves Full was there too.   Still, no copy of The Comedy of Errors was to be found, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything else at a chain store.

Chocolate TO DIE FOR!

Chocolate TO DIE FOR!

Along the way I discovered a wonderful place, Rococo Chocolates where I sampled passion fruit crème chocolate, a salted caramel and—my favorite—rose crème chocolate.  To die for, and shop was so European and wonderful

.  Just down the road, I stopped into an old fashioned stationery shop which had all manner of paper and journals and cards and things to write on.  I also found a rubber stamp shop with Stampington magazines and thousands

Green & Stone, An Art Lover's Delight

Green & Stone, An Art Lover’s Delight

of stamps and ink pads of everything photo(20)imaginable, perfect for art journaling.  But my favorite place yesterday (non-bookstore retail) was Green and Stone, an old world art shop with paints and inks and art desks and ephemera, enough to make Karen Schwettman weep with passion.

With all my travels, I didn’t make it to Victoria and Albert Museum, so off I go again today.  The charm of London is what you find on the way to where you thought you were going.

London: A Bookseller’s Journey

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It’s hard to fathom a city brimming with bookstores, some more than a century old, a town where newspapers are free, where commuters read real honest-to-God books, where you can spot as many book posters as movie trailers in the train station.  Yes, London is a bookseller’s paradise, and I am officially indulging, even overdosing on the cultural niceties of this amazing city.

Today was my first solo day in London, my daughter Megan having jetted off to Dubai, leaving me to my own devices.  I grabbed my Oyster Card (a pre-loaded bus/train pass,) downloaded my route and took off for “a literary walk around Bloomsbury.”  Coincidentally, I have been reading an advanced reader’s copy of VANESSA AND HER SISTER by Priya Parmar, a Random House book out next January about this very part of London where Virginia Wolfe (Vanessa’s sister) lived and socialized with other writers and artists.  Also associated with Bloomsbury are TS Eliot, Sylvia Plath, WB Yeats and Charles Dickens.  Oh, the history in this town, and what a place to get lost in!

As has become my habit in London, I started with an indie bookstore.  In this case, the London Review Bookshop.  (I have yet to find it spelled Shoppe in England.  And we Foxes thought we were being so cleverly olde world with that spelling!)  LRB was less intimidating than some bookstores I have visited here because it was not opened until 2003, making it just four years older than london review bookshopFoxTale. Compare that to at least two bookstores I’ve visited which are over a century old.  Like us, LRB seemed to have a pretty busy event calendar.  Unlike FoxTale, they charge attendance for these book signings, usually ten pounds ($16.27 U.S.,) and this seems to be the norm in London.  Popular authors command double that amount, and events get sold out quickly.  Around town while I’m here, Sue Monk Kidd will be signing The Invention of Wings (€20.)  Lee Child is sold out at several different bookstores.  Unknown-to-me authors also come with a price tag, though I may do it just to experience a British book signing.  Unfortunately I missed a free “party” at, of all places, Slightly Foxed, a bookstore which produces an anthology from contributing authors (customers?)  Spotted a copy of The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly—one of my Fox Picks—while at this cute bookstore.  I am considering seeing Ken Follett next week if I can work him into my busy schedule between a performance of Comedy of Errors at the Globe and The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theater.  (A first world problem to be sure, but I will come home as poor as a Dickens pauper.)

But back to the British trend of charging for book events.  No worries, we won’t be upping the ante for our author events at FoxTale, but it’s interesting to note the difference.  Do the Brits value books and authors more, or is it part of their philosophy that “nothing should be free,” as one Londoner explained to me?  Book prices seem consistent with the U.S., with maybe more of a preponderance of paperbacks.  Yet there are wonderful markdowns to be found, and I have almost filled a suitcase with what will make up a British Shelf at FoxTale when I return. Other differences?  London Review Bookshop was neat and well-stocked but—dare I say—lacking in the eclectic charm of FoxTale.  Also of note, there is little interaction among store clerks and clientele.  I’ve heard no enthusiastic book recommendations, witnessed no warm hugs, no passing out of garden vegetables to customers, no raucous laughter, no tattoos and dancing to the hokey pokey in the kids room.  Definitely British booksellers are more, ahem, refined than the Foxes.

british museumThen, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon I was off to the British Museum, directly across the street, where the history was absolutely staggering.  The museum itself was established in 1753, and some of the more than 13 million works are dated over two million years old.  How is this even possible?!?  I spent most of my time in the Egyptian/Greek section which housed parts of the Parthenon and the Rosetta Stone.  Yes, the Rosetta Stone.  (The Magna Carta is in the nearby British Library; more on that institution later.)  I seriously had trouble wrapping my head around room after room of ancient grandeur.  If it was younger than say, 3300 BC, I just walked on.

I ended the day in a pastry/tea shop where I ordered a pot of tea and a scone with clotted cream.  (The Brits charge a bit extra if you are eating in as opposed to “take away.”  Nothing’s free.)  I had no idea what clotted cream was, but envisioned a nice dollop in my tea.  My scone was the size of a bagel, and it came with a large portion of butter and jam, or so I thought.  The tea was served with sugar and cream that did not look clotted in the least.  Curiosity overcame me and I asked two delightful ladies sitting beside me to define clotted cream.  They said it was not to put in tea, but to spread on scones, that it was rather, well, clotted and the color of butter.  The more talkative of the two pointed at what I mistook for butter and said, “rather like that.”  The two ladies coached me in the “proper” way to apply clotted cream to my scone which was to spread it liberally (“more, more, put it on”), top it with jam, then put yet more clotted cream on top of that.  If Kim Jordy is not yet serving clotted cream at Tea Leaves and Thyme, she must do so immediately!

The two British ladies, whose table was almost touching mine, had been talking politics prior to my interruption.  Scotland is threatening to secede from the UK, causing a bit of alarm in England, and the Brits seem to be taking it personally.  Joan, the quieter of the two, suggested that her friend, (I’ll call her Rona) didn’t have enough information to form a proper opinion on their topic of discussion and suggested she leave it up to the politicians.  Rona vehemently (for a Brit) objected that she did too know what she was talking about, that she read the papers and was outraged.  They were eating from bowls of a thin soup the color of parsley and followed that with slices of pie, perhaps lemon.  “You’re an authentic Southern Belle,” Rona said when I told her where I was from.  She didn’t think she would like our politics in the south, Rona said, but she would like to visit Atlanta to see the antebellum homes.  Her experience of the U.S. was limited to Texas, and she found the food there deplorable.  She couldn’t even taste the food for the heat at a “Tex Mex” restaurant where Americans ate copious amounts of spicy food that masked all the flavor and washed it down with sugar-filled colas.  She had also sampled biscuits and was woefully unimpressed.  “They took a large scone which they called a biscuit and put gravy on it, rendering it completely soggy,” she lamented.

When I told her about FoxTale, Rona revealed that her quiet friend Joan Lock

Joan Lock, Author

Joan Lock, Author

was an author of some prominence.  Joan was quite shy about it, but finally gave me a list of her most popular crime novels, Dead Image, Dead Bones and Dead Letter. Online, I learned that the unassuming Joan is a former nurse and policewoman and the author of eleven non-fiction police/crime books, including three on Scotland Yard’s First detectives.   I will add her books to my list.

Today, I’m off to The Victoria and Albert Museum, with a stop along the way to John Sandoe Books.  Updates to come!

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

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It’s hard to be objective about Susan Gregg Gilmore.  Not only do we admire her writing (LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN captured our hearts when FoxTale was a little bitty baby bookstore,) but we love Susan “The Person” and Dan “The Husband” as well!  It’s one of the joys of bookselling, having the opportunity to really get to know our authors, and to be there as they give birth to their novels.   Susan is coming back to FoxTale on April 10 (2014) along with the wondrous Wendy Webb.  To get you in the mood for a super author event, here’s the review I wrote just before THE FUNERAL DRESS was published:

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Gilmore has captured the essence of the indomitable female spirit in THE FUNERAL DRESSa story about mothers (childless and otherwise) who are born to nurture, to mentor, and to protect the needy with unabashed ferocity. I watched main character Emmalee Bullard’s fingers take careful stitches of the burying dress and bore witness to her grief as if I shared the very room with her, so well-crafted was this novel.  Emmalee and the other strong women of Red Chert Holler circled my heart as they went through their tiring and not-so-fictional days sewing collars and sleeves in a workplace where they endured a host of abuses and indignities, but still found room to respect and watch out for one another.

     After work was when their real jobs began, as they took care of their community in the way generations of Southern women have known how:  delivering food and dispensing advice that left no room for argument from lily-livered men who stood between them and what needed to be done.  I was rooting so hard for Emmalee Bullard, that I shouted at my book in several scenes.   Susan Gregg Gilmore has written a thoughtful, inspiring story that will flat out stay with you after you turn the last page. Read THE FUNERAL DRESS in honor of the rocking strong women in your life.

Proof of Heaven

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We met Tom on Christmas Eve a year ago when, as if preordained, a frantic bustle of customers vanished, leaving this thirty-something man and his young children alone at FoxTale with me and Karen. Tom was tall and muscular, ruggedly good-looking, the epitome of good health. Except that he wasn’t. We were strangers to Tom, and I think that’s why he felt comfortable confiding in us that he had just been diagnosed with a ravaging illness. Surgery was scheduled for the week after Christmas, followed by, who knew what? Would he be able to keep working? Would he have to have chemo? What would happen afterward? We listened. The kids, oblivious, kept running up to Tom with a toy or book to show him, interrupting the options and outcomes, the what ifs and a reiteration of how his world had been turned on its head after one doctor visit. So many questions, no easy answers. Just the knowledge that good, bad or indifferent, Tom’s life would never be the same.

It’s that very life-altering moment in time that is a hook for Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander. One minute the author is making professional decisions as a neurosurgeon for his own sick patients, and the next he is careening with wild abandon towards (he would say well into) the afterlife. The irony of Alexander’s story is that he had spent his 25-year career denying the very experience—a glimpse at heaven—that would go on to utterly change his life among mortals (as if the sudden illness that caused the near death experience wasn’t life-altering enough.)

Alexander devotes a section of his writing to a description of his journey into heaven, and this is the part of the book I least enjoyed. As a scientist, he seemed too intent on categorizing the experience for my taste: The Core, The Gateway, The Realm of the Earthworm’s Eye View. But don’t mind me; I get bored with all of Tolkien’s inner sanctums too. What’s interesting is Alexander’s reaction to his experiences in light of his lifelong training to think scientifically. Of course, he had listened to patients describe unearthly experiences before and delegated them to the not-thinking-clearly-yet department. But to survive an illness that by all accounts should have killed him or left him hopelessly brain-damaged, and then to recall with clarity his journey to another realm where all his questions were answered . . . well, that was a horse of a different color for Eben Alexander.

When the doctor-turned-patient described what he’d been through to his own physicians, he recognized the dismissive head nod, the quieting words that were meant to rationalize his journey and keep his recollections within acceptable this-worldly confines. Thankfully, Alexander couldn’t stay silent about what he’d been through, and we have a well-written, honest account of his life story with a new big-picture perspective. “Humor. Irony. Pathos. . . . in addition to being consolations, these qualities are recognitions—brief, flashing, but all-important—of the fact that whatever our struggles and sufferings in the present world are, they can’t truly touch the larger, eternal beings we in truth are,” he says.

It’s naive to restrict your beliefs to what is scientifically provable, this doctor/author now believes. To think that the soul/spirit/essence of life is permanently extinguished, to discount the possibility of an afterlife, to believe that passing souls cannot surround our earthly lives and give us comfort, requires—in his book—a much bigger leap than to embrace that which is now obvious to Eben Alexander. There is more.

During the chaos of Tuesday’s weather/traffic crisis that is referred to as Atlanta Snow Jam ’14, two seemingly unrelated events occurred. A baby was born in a car on I-285, and our friend Tom succumbed to his illness. Neither birth nor death waited or cared about these earthly troubles, and somehow that seems appropriate and ironic. “I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be,” said Albert Einstein (as quoted in Proof of Heaven.) Tom did, and by now he knows exactly what is on the other side. He has all the answers. Maybe he even celebrated the birth of that new baby.

That makes me hopeful, ironically enough.


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Joel Osteen at FoxTale Book ShoppeWOW!  What a night it was!!!  With only a week and a half to plan for his visit to Woodstock, we Foxes are pretty happy about Joel Osteen’s event at FoxTale last night.  Despite the cold weather and the huge crowd, there seemed to be nothing but good spirits abounding.  Customer Extraordinaire Denise Miller passed out hot apple cider, and The Leaning Ladder was open all night so people could come in and get warmed up while they waited.  Many of the estimated 600 attendees had never been to Woodstock before, and we heard lots of good comments about our town.  The number one question from people who frequent FoxTale was, “How are you going to get all those people IN THERE??”  Pastor Osteen will bring a very large shoehorn, I told some people.  In reality, it was pretty smooth.  Author James Tuck was at the door, looking formidable, and calling out ticket numbers so groups of 60 or so people could line up inside to get their books signed.  And Pastor Joel did a good job of signing books quickly, while speaking personally to each person in line.

Yes, Joel Osteen was in Woodstock at FoxTale Book Shoppe!

Joel Osteen at his new favorite bookstore, FoxTale Book Shoppe There were many poignant moments last evening, but one I would like describe for you.  We met a pair of ladies earlier in the evening who had picked up their books and gone back outside to wait in line.  Meeting Joel Osteen was a dream come true for Nancy and Denise.  Nancy has some health issues and also some concerns about family members, and watches Pastor Osteen on television each week.  She couldn’t believe how lucky she was to actually get to meet him in person.  When they had been outside for more than an hour, there was word at the door that we should dial 911.  A female had collapsed, possibly due to a seizure.   We did dial 911, but just as we were trying to describe the problem, shouts of “Never mind, she’s okay now,” came through the crowd, and I looked up to see James Tuck carrying Nancy in his arms.  He placed her gently in the chair by the door, and Karen and I got her some water and sat with her while Jackie took her friend Denise to the back to clean up a nasty scrape on her arm.  Apparently both ladies had hit the ground, but they weren’t ready to give in.  Nancy was clearly exhausted and too weak to stand in line.  We were afraid she would not get to meet Osteen, unless he came to her.  Working our way through the crowd, the Foxes stopped the signing line while Pastor Joel came to Nancy’s chair and knelt down in front of her.  They talked for a little while, and Nancy asked him to “straighten her crown.”  He did.  Then while his hands were on her, he prayed for Nancy and her family, a heartfelt message that was not rushed.  Nancy had tears in her eyes afterwards, and kept repeating, “I can’t believe he was just here.”  It was a moment that Nancy would not soon forget, and one that the Foxes will carry for a long time too.

So thank you to all our bookstore friends and the new ones we made last night.  Each of you was part of the success of the event, and we are humbled to be the conduit for you to meet memory makers like Joel Osteen.  Thanks also to the FoxTale volunteers:  Carol, Val, Tonya, Kathy, Susan, Nancy T., Denise, Gary, Sean, and Gene.  It takes a village to run a bookstore.

Karen’s Wonderful Gift Emporium

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Since Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Graduation are coming up soon, here’s my list of can’t go wrong gifts available now at your favorite indie, FoxTale!





Sorted Books by Nina Katchadourian, Brian Dillon

For:  Bibliophiles!

Why I’d want it: Book lovers love books about books and this one delivers in a most unusual way.  The physical book is an art form and the arranging of titles

makes for an amusing afternoon walk through bookshelves, titles speaking for themselves in clever and often hilarious ways.  This book honors the written word, the physical book in this age of electronics and celebrates its many art forms.  This is a book I’d pick up again and again for the joy of its pages while it calls me to arrange my own bookshelves in creative ways.  Great conversation piece!


Alphabet by Kveta Pacovska

For: Art lovers

Why I’d want it:  Pacovska is a celebrated contemporary artist who received the Hans Christian Andersen award for her lifetime achievement in art for young people. “Alphabet” is a multidimensional journey through the ABC’s with windows, textures and pop ups.  It’s a delight to the eye and imagination, perfect for any age who appreciates fine art and whimsy.  To have a book by Kveta Pacovska at this price is astounding.  Her books sell in museum stores for much more.  Take home work by a celebrated artist at an affordable price!



Art of the Heart by Mary Emmerling

For: Art and Design Freaks

Why I’d want it:  Mary Emmerling is well known among décor enthusiasts, I’ve followed her work for years.  She is a master of arranging and finding unusual objects.  I love sitting with a cuppa tea and any book by Mary Emmerling.  Eye candy for the soul.



Birds and Blooms of the 50 States by Anna Branning and Mary Murphy

For: Birders, Gardeners, Artists and U.S. History fans

Why I’d want it:  I’m a novice birdwatcher and love being able to identify the birds that come to my feeder.  Increasing my knowledge by knowing what birds are native to what state and why is right up my alley.  The birds and blooms are arranged in vintage-style compositions beautifully rendered.  A gift book sure to please.


Bird Watching and Other Nature Observations Journal

For: Birders and Nature Enthusiasts

Why I’d want it: Perfect companion to Birds and Blooms for the birdwatcher.  Plenty of room for personal bird watching observations with quotes scattered throughout. I love quotes!  End section has lots of information on honing your bird watching skills as well as further reading on the subject. I can never have too many journals for every imaginable reason and this baby blue baby is deevine.


You’re Only Human: A Guide to Life by The Gecko

For: Graduates, Father’s Day, Those easily amused

Why I’d want it:  Who doesn’t love the Gecko?  And now he’s writing books.  What a cute little fella! This is his humorous take on life.  I gotta hand it to him, he’s got a lot of wisdom crammed between the covers and a lot of laughter to make it go down easy.  Ease the day away, take a break from the rat race, and love your Gecko!  Great with a cold beer or iced tea.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

For: Guy Graduates, Father’s Day

Why I’d want it:  It’s a modern classic, told by a father to his son on a summer roadtrip.  The work on the motorcycle asks and answers the great life questions that are a part of all of us.  A book to be read again and again.  Great travel writing is an extra plus.  Give it to the men in your life.  They’ll get it…

You’re invited to CAMP REDEMPTION

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I finished Ray Atkin’s “Camp Redemption” yesterday.  I hated to.  Finish it, that is.  After beginning the book late Sunday, I took it with me everywhere, reading in clandestine places when I had a spare moment and reading it aloud to anyone who would listen. Those who did, laughed out loud with me and I sold one right on my porch after reading a passage to a friend.  🙂

This book was rich in character and place as true Southern writing is.  You’ve never been to a camp like Camp Redemption.  But you DO want to go and hang out with Early and Ivey and their ragtag band of campers…  You’ll find yourself there, in one of them.  Fully flawed humans shuffling along on the road to grace.  God indeed works in mischievous ways, just walk the path with Early for a while and you’ll agree. 

Don’t even wait, RUN TO FOXTALE THIS SATURDAY AT 1PM  and meet the creator of this one of a kind storytelling.  If you can wait that long.  Until then, I’ll be hanging out at the lake with Early’s Dr. Grabow, waiting for you.