Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Stories of Christmas

I first heard one of my now favorite Christmas stories on NPR on Christmas Eve, ten years ago. I was driving home from work, and let's just say I was not in a receptive mood for any nonsense about sweetness and light. Don't get me wrong, working at the bookstore through the holiday is wonderful—you get to be Santa Claus hour after hour, day after day. But after a month of this, Santa can get tuckered out. 

By six o'clock this particular Christmas Eve I was dog tired and not at all looking forward to our usual holiday rituals of opening presents and a big family dinner. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed, sleep and be left alone. Looking for some help in staying awake on my 20 minute drive, I turned on the radio.

The man on WUNC had a familiar Southern voice, but I couldn't quite place it. He was telling a story, in the first person, of a socially awkward loner named Verne who was managing a pet shop in a mall, somewhere along an interstate in North Carolina. A runaway pregnant teenage girl had taken to hanging out at the mall, and out of sympathy for a fellow outcast, Verne befriended her.

I soon figured out that the voice on the radio belonged to my friend Hillsborough writer Allan Gurganus. And
ten minutes later, as Allan brought his story, “A Fool for Christmas,” to a close, I was reaching for the kleenex. My Scrooge-like heart had been transformed, (thankfully without the intervention of any ghosts), and I was happy that it was Christmas Eve, and that I was coming home to be with my wonderful wife and the family that I loved.

Since that long-ago drive home in 2004, Allan has performed his marvelous tale at the bookshop at least four times. Every time he changes the story a bit, and every time I end up reaching for something to dab my eyes. Allan will reprise “A Fool for Christmas” at The Regulator this Friday evening at 7:00.  Simply put brothers and sisters, Allan Gurganus can flat out Tell a story. And he knocks this one out of the park.

The Christmas season is of course full of grand stories, starting with the one in the Bible. Then back in 1843 a Mr Charles Dickens penned a little story called “A Christmas Carol” that has easily stood the test of time. If you are like most people (and like me until about 5 years ago) and have never actually read “A Christmas Carol,” you should not deprive yourself of this treat much longer. As good as some of the movie versions are, the book is better.

If you have read the book, you will be intrigued by Les Standiford's “The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.”  It seems that after initial fame—but not yet serious fortune—from books like “Oliver Twist” and “The Old Curiosity Shop,” Dickens in 1843 had fallen on hard times after the disappointing sales of his latest novels, “Barnaby Rudge” and “Martin Chuzzlewit.” Dispirited and deeply in debt, he walked the streets of London seeking inspiration. The Christmas ghost story that he came up with was initially turned down by his publisher (!) but Dickens found a willing printer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Grinch is still great, as is “The Polar Express.” Another of my recent favorites, Donald Hall's “Christmas at Eagle Pond “(2012) tells a charming, truly heartwarming story of a Christmas spent at his grandparent's farm in rural New Hampshire in 1940.

Christmas is a time of sharing. And the best holiday stories are all about sharing, so they are, to me, an essential part of what makes Christmas a special time. Share your favorites by reading them out out loud with family and friends.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Our 37th Anniversary!

Last week marked the Regulator's 37th anniversary. Here's a little piece about the store's beginning, written for our 30th anniversary back in 2006. Those who remember the bookstore's early days will meet for breakfast at Whitt's Grill, Friday morning at 9:00..

The Story Begins Like This...

A small and perhaps improbable bookstore opens its door for the first time on a cold Saturday morning. It is early in December, 1976. There's a vague memory of snow flurries in the air.

We set things up so that our first customer that morning was Agnes Birkhead, the grandmother of one of the store's founding lights. Agnes had been the court stenographer at the Scopes "monkey" trial and gone on to be Sinclair Lewis's personal assistant. Agnes Birkhead was a touchstone for us, a connection to a strong American tradition of truth-seeking and independent thinking. We hope that, 30 years on, our actions continue to honor her memory.

A few months before that December morning, Agnes's grandson David put down a month's rent on a small retail space at 720 Ninth Street and called a meeting of a group of friends, mostly recent Duke graduates. The idea had been kicking around of starting a bookstore in Durham. David had found a space we could do it in. Did anyone want to put some work into getting this going?

I was just out of graduate school with no pressing plans, so I signed on for a couple of months to help get the store started. Luckily, so did Aden Field, who brought to the undertaking bookkeeping experience and insight into setting up systems to help us track all the details you have to keep on top of to run a bookstore. All of our special orders are still run through basically the same system that Aden set up in 1976.
The bookstore that opened that December 4th occupied the front third of the upstairs of our current space. We expanded into the rest of the upstairs in 1990, and into the downstairs in 1998. Aden left the store in 1978, and John Valentine came on to run the store with me. We added Helen Whiting to our team in 1982, and we'll never recover from Helen's far too early death in March 1999.

Thinking back on The Regulator's earliest days, it's clear that the bookstore was founded in a completely different universe, in a place you just can't get to anymore. The power's down, the roads are out, the trails are unmarked and overgrown. In this far away place there was a working textile mill across the street, and Ninth Street was populated by "mill village" shops-a couple of grills that only served breakfast and lunch, a hardware store, a post office, McDonald's drug store. Durham was still a tobacco and textile town, and though we didn't really know it at the time, the bookstore's opening was a harbinger of change to come. More change than we could ever have imagined at the time.

But one thing has remained constant through all these years-the amazing support that this town has given to our community-oriented bookstore. That an independent bookstore the size (and may we humbly say) status of The Regulator continues to succeed in a city the size of Durham is highly unusual. Durham certainly gets its share of bad press, and gets the cold shoulder from many of our haughtier Triangle neighbors. But here at the Regulator we've come to know that there's a lot more to this town than the conventional wisdom, and the media, give it credit for. We wouldn't want to run a bookstore anywhere else. Thank you, Durham, for thirty wonderful years.

Thanks also to all of our friends, customers, and supporters throughout the area, the state, and the country. Thanks to all the incredible people who have worked at the store over these many years. Thanks to the authors who have visited us, and to all our friends in the publishing industry. And thanks finally to you, our wonderful customers, who walk through our door every day and help keep our still improbable bookstore alive and well. In our best moments we realize that this place exists only as a partnership with our community and our customers. We hope you always feel free to contribute to our ongoing dialogue, and that you will want to participate in our partnership for many years to come.
Tom Campbell

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Goodbye Amazon, hello Ninth Street

Column: Goodbye Amazon, hello Ninth Street
By Melissa Rooney, Durham News, 8 December 2013

Last year I hoped Americans would boycott the holiday materialism that feeds the corporate monster and its wealthy share-holders.

In retrospect, I couldn’t even do this myself.
Given busy schedules and long Christmas lists, it’s hard to pass up the ease and free shipping offered of online ordering, not to mention all the corporate discounts thrown at us this time of year.
Last year, I gave Amazon far more business than I’d intended. This year, I am fully committed to two rules: 1) Quality not Quantity; and 2) Local Only.
I stuck to mantra No. 1 during Halloween, when my husband made fun of me for giving just one atomic fireball to each trick-or-treater. “They’re a specialty,” I defended, “and they aren’t cheap.” As for the ensuing holidays, my kids have been duly warned to expect only one Christmas gift from each parent and grandparent this year – even my mother, whose Christmas shopping could support the entire economy of China (according to my husband).
On to Mantra No. 2. Buying local is easy if you are looking for home furnishings and art, but what about more practical items?
I recently spent a couple mornings on Ninth Street, reminding myself how easy it is to shop local in Durham. The first was with my kids (9, 10 and 3 years old), and we spent the entire morning in the children’s section of the Regulator book store (the kids now want to purchase Regulator gift cards as birthday gifts, so their friends can have the same experience). The second time, I went by myself.
I always look for bohemian “gypsy” dresses when window-shopping, and Native Threads – my favorite place on Ninth – has beautiful and comfortable African and Indian clothing as well as a plethora of thought-provoking paraphernalia from Tibet, Africa and other magical locations. Vaguely Reminiscent sells natural-fiber clothing, shoes, socks, jewelry, hair accessories, and the ever-popular “Durham, It’s Not For Everyone” T-shirts. Picturesque Barnes Supply Company has lawn, garden, and pet supplies/gifts.
My second favorite Ninth Street venue is the little white house that is Barnes Pottery Shed – finding the entrance is an adventure in and of itself. The Duck Shop sells Duke apparel and gifts at lower prices than on-campus stores (if you like those sorts of things – I am a UNC fan), and The Playhouse has quality educational toys and a great selection of kids’ music and books. My third favorite spot is Hunky Dory, an old-school vinyl-records and tobacco shop; I particularly enjoy inspecting the funky T-shirts and local offerings (often at reduced prices) in the back corner.
Nearby Brightleaf Square houses Bull City Art and Frame Company; James Kennedy Antiques (jewelry, pottery, African art, and medical, nautical, and scientific items); Offbeat Music (it’s worth just sampling music on the listening stations and perusing the buttons, stickers and shirts); several independent clothing and jewelry stores and more. Rather than scouring the Internet, it is far more fun to look for that out-of-print book at Wentworth and Leggett Rare Books and Prints (surprisingly very affordable); W&L also appraises and buys books.
When looking for the “Big Store” experience, Morgan Imports and Parker and Otis (beside Brightleaf) sell backpacks, clothing, shoes, furnishings, kitchen wares, wine, you name it! 

These are my favorite stores in this area, and I can spend hours in both.
For more local shopping opportunities, I can drive down West Chapel Hill Street, Foster Street, Main Street, throughout downtown Durham in a matter of minutes.

But independent stores aren’t only located downtown. A South Durham favorite of mine is Bean Traders on Highway 54. In addition to great coffee and pastries and a sizeable indoor children’s play area (with regularly scheduled story and craft times), BT sells “Durham” and other locally made items like T-shirts, reusable bags, journals, pot-holders, soaps, it’s different every time. For Garden’s Sake (on 751, just beyond the Fayetteville Road intersection) has plants, gardening tools and supplies, and a marvelous gift shop with many locally manufactured items, not to mention live (and happy) ducks, goats, chickens, and a beautiful lake. Foster’s, Rare Earth Beads, and other fun independent stores are located along Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard. And there are many more throughout Durham.
At the pinnacle of practical, the Triangle Pharmacy and Ace Hardware stores on Highway 54 and in Woodcroft Shopping Center are owned by Durham pharmacist Alice Dillard and her sister (and by their parents before). Ace is a co-op (not a franchise) which employs nearly 50 people, so the bulk of the money earned stays here in the community. The prices are affordable, and it’s a much more intimate shopping experience than any big-box store can provide. Plus, I can get my prescriptions filled while I shop. I love driving by the store on 54 just to see what new, original jingle is posted on their street sign.
I am lucky to live in a place where it is so easy to support the local economy, and I plan to take advantage of the opportunities this holiday season and beyond. I hope you’ll join me.
Melissa Rooney is a writer, scientist and mom.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Allure of the Print Book

Finally some folks in out-of-touch New York City have realized that print books are not going away, and that they are in many ways better than digital books.

From a New York Times technology blog post titled "The Allure of the Print Book," published on December 2nd by Nick Bilton:

"...when I touched that physical book again for the first time in years, it was like the moment you hear a nostalgic song on the radio and are instantly lost in it. The feeling of a print book, with its rough paper and thick spine, is an absorbing and pleasurable experience — sometimes more so than reading on a device.

Some recent reports have found that the tactile feeling of paper can also create a much more immersive learning experience for readers. Why? Several scientists believe it is neurological.

A research report published earlier this year in the International Journal of Education Research found that students in school who read text on printed paper scored significantly higher in reading comprehension tests than students who read the same text in digital forms.

Meanwhile, I’m not alone in my nostalgia for paper, as my colleague David Streitfeld reports. In addition, according to an October report by the Book Industry Study Group, which monitors the publishing industry, the sales of e-books have slowed over the past year and currently comprise about 30 percent of all books sold.
Believe it or not, it isn’t just grumpy old people and those of us with hyperactive puppies who are buying physical books. It’s teenagers, too..."

read the whole article here: