The Regulator Bookshop
I grew up among the almond trees.
(Not really, but I think this is a nice thing for people to hear when they are buying a Steinbeck novel.)
I was orphaned as a child.
(Not exactly, but I did have a childhood obsession with The Boxcar Children.)
You know, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is actually based on my mother’s life.
(Okay, so that’s a stretch. But she did grow up in Brooklyn BEFORE IT WAS GENTRIFIED, which she is fond of telling anyone who will listen.)
Flannery O’Connor? Oh, she’s a family friend on my father’s side.
(My father’s great uncle’s friend’s brother took care of her peacocks. Close enough.)
These aren’t lies, exactly. They are fictions, which I am in the business of selling. My co-workers tell me to tone it down, but most of the customers don’t even know I’m acting. Instead, they want to hear about the almond trees and pre-hipster Brooklyn. They ask what O’Connor was really like, you know, as a person. My mother comes in sometimes when I am mid book-sell, and rolls her eyes as she waits in line to give me my lunch. “She’ll grow out of it,” she says to my coworkers. They all nod and smile, like I’m a five year old.
In real life, I am fifteen, and I will not grow out of it. That is like saying I will grow out of books, which is ridiculous. Until I turned eight years old, I read everything out loud. As a result, my parents forced me to watch episodes of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street, just to get a break from my voice. Once I learned to read inside my head, though, they let me be. I have nothing against Mr. Rogers, and I’m not claiming to be some sort of Matilda character. My parents are plenty educated. They have plenty of books. It’s their fault I’m this way! I grew up watching the world from the windows of bookstores! I learned the alphabet from librarians and musty old women who dealt in rare books and kept bookstore tabby cats. It was not a terrible way to grow up, but it was very, very quiet. The hush of my father’s study could have blanketed a carnival, and the dry sound of my mother turning pages — like the book itself was sighing — is a thing I still hear in my dreams.
So who could blame me for wanting to make a little noise? I want adventures, even if I have to make them up myself — lemon groves, mountains like jagged teeth, northern lights, Tasmanian islands, black sand beaches where lava pours into the boiling ocean. My parents say that I live inside the pages of books, but this is true of them, not me. I live in the world. I have read enough books, though, to know that I will make all the same mistakes they have made, or I will make catastrophic mistakes of my own — there’s really no in-between when it comes to the bildungsroman, is there? So, I ask myself: What will it be — a soundless existence steeped in the solace of language and letters, or a raucous existence marked by danger and dereliction, dragging my books along with me in a dirty satchel laden with dreams and lembas bread?
If only people would stop laughing when I share with them my dilemma. It forces me to keep so many of my thoughts to myself.
As it turns out, it is very hard to be fifteen and the only daughter of scholars who fancy themselves sages, even if they can get you a job in your favorite bookstore.