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We were going to tell you about much we enjoyed Shann Ray’s debut story collection, American Masculine, but it is a little hard to focus on his vivid prose when videos such as these have surfaced of the writer. Not that many authors can posterize you with both a tomahawk and arresting storytelling. If logistics would allow it, we would gladly add Shann to our offensively challenged city league team. In the interim, we are happy to follow him on the first of his two Book Clubbing posts about his favorite places to spend time away from the hardwood.
When you enter Auntie’s in Spokane, Washington, you are greeted with an architectural wonder that is expansive and to me, divine. Broad hardwood leads to an ever-widening staircase and from there the eye is drawn up through the open central expanse of the store to floor after floor of banisters and columns that circumscribe a vast wonder of open air. There is an emptiness to that air, and it calls to us in the core of our existence. At the foundation of Auntie’s, the ground floor, the books are bedrock, and as you walk among the stacks it is like moving shoulder to shoulder with friendly giants. You pick up a book and a power of near infinite proportions transports you to other worlds with the speed of light. I’ll choose a representative three authors Spokane happily calls our own to illustrate my point.
Consider these words from poet Christopher Howell’s book Light’s Ladder:
who knows why
or how to live in these
empty rooms, but I remember
what love is
and hold on to that.
And a few aisles further on, you find prose of wonder and abandon in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, by Jess Walter, National Book Award finalist for The Zero:
They burst into the sky, every bird in creation, angry and agitated, awakened by the same primary thought, erupting in a white feathered cloudburst, anxious and graceful, angling in ever-tightening circles toward the ground, drifting close enough to touch, and then close enough to see that it wasn’t a flock of birds at all–it was paper. Burning scraps of paper. All the little birds were paper. Fluttering and circling and growing bigger, falling bits and frantic sheets, some smoking, corners scorched, flaring in the open air until there was nothing left but a fine black edge… and then gone, a hole and nothing but the faint memory of smoke.
And still deeper into the store, these lines of disarming honesty and beauty by national treasure and winner of the Pen Faulkner, Sherman Alexie, from his book War Dances:
Why do poets think
They can change the world?
The only life I can save
Is my own.
In it’s day, Auntie’s Bookstore and it’s books claimed multiple floors. Now, in the wake of recession, upper floors house businesses and varied other ventures, and outer portions of the ground floor contain a French restaurant and a galleria. The store survives, and remains beloved to patrons throughout the Inland Northwest. Somehow, the store even thrives. People move as if by water among the multi-layered paths of the store. We see each other among the books as we wend our way quietly to what treasures we know we need, and when we leave the store we emerge into the day as if our souls were fired by sun.
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).