Monday, May 6, 2013

Lemuria, My Wonderland

     I grew up in a world devoid of bookstores. That's pretty amazing considering a good chunk of my childhood was spent in suburban Chicago. "Buying books meant" the offerings of the Scholastic  and Weekly Reader Book Clubs. I still own those now-crumbling, 35 cent paperbacks and yellowing, cheesy board-bound books. A bookstore was something I saw only in the Loop...the book department of Marshall Field's and the Doubleday bookstore. My mother managed to convince me that the bookstores were like could look, but you couldn't buy.

    We moved when I was ten. Bye-bye, Marshall Field's, bye-bye Doubleday. There were no bookstores at all in Jackson, Mississippi, unless you count a few that catered to a particular political bent. Certainly nothing for children.

    In high school I found a second-hand paperback store near my house, which specialized in other kids' discarded Scholastic Paperbacks, and Grace Livingston Hill romances.  I never left empty handed. Still, I imagined that somewhere, people must be buying real books.  New books. Books that didn't smell like other people's houses, with the occasional  gum wrapper bookmark.

    Then, while home on a college break, my dad told me that there was an actual bookstore in town. Not a glorified newsstand, like the so-called "mall bookstore" but a real, live bookstore with hard covers and paperbacks...all new.  So off we went to this new place with the odd name of Lemuria, located in a converted apartment in an office complex on the Pearl River. A flight of stairs and voila... an ordinary two bedroom apartment..awash in books. Books in the bathroom. Books stacked on the floor and on the kitchen countertops. It didn't matter that it was hard finding some order in this was books!  I came back every chance I got.

     Nirvana.  I learned that Lemuria's name came from a lost continent, home to an advanced civilization. The Lemurians developed a system of writing and recorded their thoughts. Most appropriate, I thought. An hour or so spent at Lemuria was an hour in another, better world. A temple of books, and I devoted worshipper.

   Before long, the store moved out of the apartment and into splendid quarters in a boutique-y shopping center closer to my house. Decorative leaded glass, autographed pictures by authors, both famous and notso-famous on the walls.  Deep leather chairs. Paneled walls and check out desks.  It was what I imagined a bookstore in San Francisco might look like. (I had never  been to a bookstore in San Francisco.)

   Ten years later, Lemuria moved to larger and even more elegant digs in the Banner Hall building, across the highway from it's former home.  The autographed pictures multiplied. A separate children's bookstore, rare books room and separate building for the online store were added. There seemed to be a new expansions every time I came home and checked in.

   It is said that if you sit long enough at a Paris cafe, you will see everyone you know. Lemuria is like that.  Whenever I visited,  I'd grab a stack of books and sit in one of those deep leather club chairs, grazing on books and grooving with whatever funky music was on the store system.  Sometimes I would see hometown authors Eudora Welty or Willie Morris in neighboring club chairs. No one bothered them. Unless there was a book signing, authors were customers like everyone else and no one bothered them.

    When my first book, Yankee Girl, was published in 2004, I achieved my own lifetime fantasy of having a book signing at Lemuria. This entitled me to place my own autographed picture on their wall of fame. (Last time I checked, it was next to the sales desk in Oz, the children's store.) And like the Parisian cafe, it seemed that everyone I ever knew turned out for the occasion. High school friends. My childhood Sunday School teachers. Former students.  SCBWI buddies. Even though I was an unknown first-time author, the staff at Lemuria treated me as if I were John Grisham (who always has the first book signing of his latest book at Lemuria.)

    Lemuria rambles, with rooms added here and there, as extra space in the building became available. No matter how many bookcases they add (and they go up a good fifteen feet in the air), there are still books stacked on the floor, the window ledges, and yes...the bathroom. The staff consider themselves "booksellers" and not mere clerks, keeping track of where the stock is located. They are all bibliophiles of the first order and always have something to say about your own book selection. A typical remark is
"So you are getting this book. It's really good. Have you read (the author's) first book?  Same characters."

    I have always thought that bookstores are like churches....if you have a problem, and sit there long enough, you will either find a solution, or at least feel peaceful. The air is infused with something special.  I defy you to find that same aura in a  Big Box Chain Book Store (and yes, Jackson does have one.)

     It's not too late to sign up for our Fourth Blogiversary. See this post for details.  See this post for details.

    As for me, I am ready to drop everything for a seven hour road trip to Lemuria!

     Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Jill said...

"As for me, I am ready to drop everything for a seven hour road trip to Lemuria!"

Me, too!

Linda B said...

Love this 'tribute' to Lemuria. What a special place, & it's marvelous you got to watch it grow and grow! There is nothing like a favorite bookstore! Thanks much for taking the time to tell so much!

April Halprin Wayland said...

I felt sure you were leading up to a tear-jerker ending when the bad times came and Lemuria was not more. How wonderful that it's beaten the odds.

Long live indies!

Anonymous said...

I had a book signing at Lemuria around this time last year. I sat under the picture of Eudora Welty who I met and interviewed as a high school student in Jackson. What a wonderful feeling! My dad can often be found perusing the stacks or talking to one of the booksellers. It's right on the interstate, so anytime you are passing through Jackson, take time to stop at Lemuria.