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Elk River Books

Last we heard from author Shann Ray, he was dunking on bewildered opponents and taking us to his favorite Spokane bookshop. Some 425 miles later, we pick up his trail in Livingston, Montanta, the home of his first love, Elk River Books.

In Montana, my home state, you can hike in the Beartooth Mountains in the morning, and by late afternoon find yourself in a comfortable easy chair with a cup of coffee at your side, reading a marvelous book from the shelves of Elk River Books in Livingston. A gorgeous boutique bookstore owned and run by Andrea and Doug Peacock, legends of Montana grizzly bear lore, married to books and each other with a sweet, sweet love, Elk River is a gem in the heart of one of the finest small towns in America. Alive and well and living in the area, Livingston boasts nearby residents that range from Jim Harrison to Thomas McGuane, from Russell Chatham to Walter Kirn, and in a not so long ago time, the city laid claim to the infamous Calamity Jane.

Just south of Livingston in the high mountains at dawn you encounter things you rarely encounter elsewhere. The Beartooth Range runs through southern Montana and boasts some of the finest peaks of the Rocky Mountain front, many touching the sky at 10,000 feet. I have walked that great wide country, and when you arrive and start out in the pre-dawn blackness, the darkness attends you and stays close, shrouded by forest and granite. In late autumn the air is sharp and cold and when the sun begins to light the world, vision opens and all around you on the high plateau you see Timothy grass encased in small intricate robes of frost. Above and to the west the sky is still largely obscured, but light seeps over the high plain on which you walk and when the sun finally breaks the horizon, the moments that follow are breathtaking. In every direction the frost melts, the sun refracts through tiny spheres of water on each stalk of grass. Suddenly the land appears like an upside-down sky of stars.

Similarly, when you enter Elk River Books, every title is a gem. The literary taste of Andrea and Doug is everywhere apparent, and it is not for nothing that seemingly every book you take from the shelves is one known and loved for its merit, its depth, and its power to evoke the most haunting desolations of the human condition as well as the most reverberant redemptions.

I am grateful for great bookstores, just as I am grateful for great books. Places like Elk River need our patronage, our verbal and monetary support, and our deep love.

Thankfully, deep love is what we were always meant to give.

Shann Ray is the author of the Bakeless Prize winning collection of stories, American Masculine, out now on Graywolf Press, and the forthcoming Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity (Rowman & Littlefield)

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