Exploring Indie Bookshops in Maine

In mid-May my husband and I took a road trip up to Maine. His family recently had work done to update their family cottage and we wanted to inspect the work before the rental season started. In between working remotely, wrangling contractors, and doing our own handywork, we managed to find time for a little bit of fun!

As fate would so conveniently have it, we “stumbled” into some cute indie bookshops during our exploration of downtown Portland and Camden. Of course, we popped into other shops and whetted our whistles on plenty of great local beer, which is all just as swell. But let’s be real–we’re here for the book-sploration!

Before I get to the fun stuff, apologies in advance for the low quality of these photos. They’re all phone photos edited and downsized using Lightroom and Photoshop. I’m not quite sure why the quality is so low, but I give up on trying to figure it out. Anyway….

In downtown Portland we stopped in at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops. If I’m remembering their sign correctly, they boast being the oldest book shop in Maine. I forgot to take photos in the store, but I love that their staff recommendations are near the shop entrance. Because of this set up, I discovered and bought Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. Another feature I like about the store is that they had a clearly marked LGBTQ+ reads section. I’ve only been book blogging for a couple of months now. However, in that amount of time I’ve noticed how so many advocate for inclusivity in the book community. So I thought it was great to see that this bookstore strives for inclusivity and boosts awareness of these books and authors.

We also visited Yes Books and Green Hand Bookshop, which are both used bookstores. Yes Books is perfect for those who enjoy wandering through a maze of genres and hunting for treasures. They had quite large sections for different history subgenres; their section on books about Native American history sticks out in my memory.

Green Hand Bookshop is more organized than Yes Books, which I appreciated because we were short on time. Green Hand Bookshop has a lot of vintage sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. They’re the kind that are all uniform in size and whose cover illustrations are reminiscent of the 70s and 80s. They also clearly price mark rare/hard-to-find editions of books by authors such as Octavia Butler or Frank Herbert.

I was hoping to find the first book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, or even something with the original cover art from the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but I came out empty handed. If I’d had more time to research some of the vintage sci-fi and fantasy books, I probably would’ve walked out with a few books. But I was happy just the same to only peruse the stacks.

Owl and Turtle Bookshop and CafeIn Camden we weren’t actively looking for a bookstore, so we truly did stumble across Owl & Turtle Bookshop and Cafe. This store is after my own heart–most of the books on the shelves are paperbacks! I personally rarely buy hardbacks because they’re expensive and take up a lot of precious space. In my perfect book world, the paperback version of a book would be released simultaneously with the hardback version. But I digress.

Owl & Turtle lends itself well to book browsing. There aren’t a ton of books to cause decision paralysis, but there are plenty enough to satisfy different interests. I ended up purchasing two books: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker.

Stone Soup BooksLast, but certainly not least, we explored Stone Soup Books, which has used books bursting out of its seams. It isn’t a very large store, but there are plenty of different genres to sift through. There’s a large general fiction section, not to mention hefty classical, philosophy, and nonfiction sections. I even saw some vintage Nancy Drew books from the 1950s. I almost bought a couple of books by Kazuo Ishiguro, but I’ve heard different opinions about his writing style, so I wasn’t ready to commit to my own copies.

Before this trip I hadn’t been inside of a bookstore since well before the pandemic hit. Since we were mainly homebound during the pandemic, I rediscovered my love of reading. Once things started to open for in-person browsing, I was excited to go to a bookstore for the first time in ages. In this digital age we can order a book and receive it lickity split. But I don’t think that will ever replace (for me) being able to walk into a bookstore, explore the selection, and physically handle a book before making a decision about one’s next literary escape. Not to mention you can’t get that new (or used) book smell through your computer.

Please note that any links in this post are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

First Lines Fridays: May 28, 2021

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  The rules are as follows:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

If you’re using Twitter, don’t forget to use #FirstLinesFridays!

Without further ado….

Transgender is a word that has come into widespread use only in the past couple of decades, and its meanings are still under construction. I use it in this book to refer to people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, people who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain that gender.

And the book reveal is….

From Seal Press:

Covering American transgender history from the mid-twentieth century to today, Transgender History takes a chronological approach to the subject of transgender history, with each chapter covering major movements, writings, and events. Chapters cover the transsexual and transvestite communities in the years following World War II; trans radicalism and social change, which spanned from 1966 with the publication of The Transsexual Phenomenon, and lasted through the early 1970s; the mid-’70s to 1990-the era of identity politics and the changes witnessed in trans circles through these years; and the gender issues witnessed through the ’90s and ’00s.

Transgender History includes informative sidebars highlighting quotes from major texts and speeches in transgender history and brief biographies of key players, plus excerpts from transgender memoirs and discussion of treatments of transgenderism in popular culture.

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Reading format: Library hardback

Content warnings: death, racism, suicide

Rating: 3.5/5

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of The Girl Who Fell from the Sky on Bookshop.org!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Set in the 1980’s, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky follows the story of Rachel, the daughter of a white Danish woman and a Black American soldier. She’s the only survivor of a tragic accident that claimed the lives of her mother, brother, and baby sister after they moved back to the U.S. Rachel’s father is too grief-stricken to care for her, so she is sent to live with her paternal grandmother in Portland, Oregon.

Having spent most of her life in racially tolerant and “color blind” Europe, Rachel now lives in a predominantly Black community in Portland, where she becomes increasingly aware of her biracial heritage. There she realizes she is Black, but not “Black enough.” She struggles to figure out how she fits in with her school yard peers who single her out for her light skin, blue eyes, and “white behavior.” As she learns how to cope with her grief and estrangement, she slowly pieces together memories and truths of what happened the day she fell from the sky.

Durrow tells Rachel’s story from different points of view in a non-linear fashion. We also hear from Jamie, Rachel’s neighbor in Chicago who witnessed the accident; Nella, Rachel’s mother who struggles with the racism her children experience in Chicago; Laronne, who helped Nella find a job and who cleaned up Nella’s apartment after the accident; and Roger, Rachel’s father who is too paralyzed by grief to care for his daughter.

Durrow’s lyrical writing style offers a soft, poetic account of how this tragic family accident affected Rachel and those around her. My only critique really boils down to personal preference: I’m not usually a fan of alternating perspectives or non-linear stories.

As someone who thinks very linearly, it was somewhat difficult for me to follow each character’s timeline. We’re simultaneously learning about Rachel in the present while also learning about her family and other characters in the past. However, once introduced to everyone, continuing to read bred familiarity with Durrow’s characters. As a result, it became easier to flit back and forth between each person and time period.

First Lines Fridays: May 21, 2021

First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?  The rules are as follows:

  • Pick a book off your shelf (it could be your current read or on your TBR) and open to the first page
  • Copy the first few lines, but don’t give anything else about the book away just yet – you need to hook the reader first
  • Finally… reveal the book!

If you’re using Twitter, don’t forget to use #FirstLinesFridays!

Without further ado….

Father told me I’m broken.

He didn’t speak this disappointment when I answered his question. But he said it with narrowed eyes, the way he sucked on his already hollow cheeks, the way the left side of his lips twitched a little bit down, the movement almost hidden by his beard.

And the book reveal is….

From Hatchette Book Group:

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Book Review: Not Quite Not White by Sharmila Sen

Reading format: Library paperback

Content warnings: racism

Rating: 4/5

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America on Bookshop.org!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Not Quite Not White: Losing and Finding Race in America by Sharmila Sen is a memoir of her childhood in India and of her experience with race after she immigrated to the United States in 1982. The first chapter mainly describes how she grew up for the first 12 years of her life in India without race. Race hadn’t been part of India’s census since 1951. Instead, in Calcutta people are categorized by a different set of labels. She describes how people identify each other’s religion, caste, and ethnic group by language spoken, gods worshipped, surname, food eaten, or whether someone is vegetarian. Colorism exists, but because skin tone varies greatly among family members it isn’t used to mark racial boundaries.

When her family began to struggle financially, they decided to emigrate from India to the U.S. During this process she realized she had been designated a race, which was a wholly unfamiliar concept. She began to realize that not all races are equal in America. So she spent the rest of her youth trying to blend into whiteness, to assimilate into white American culture.

But as she grew older she began to question: what does means to be white? Why is non-whiteness visible and whiteness invisible? Does being American also mean being white? She acknowledges feeling “not quite” white, Black, or Asian enough. She observes how she feels pressure to represent all of and be an unofficial ambassador for her culture. At the same time, she must be careful not to make white America feel uncomfortable with her not quite whiteness. She

“Looking back to 1982, I now realize that race was the immigrant and I was the homeland where it came to rest.”

I thought the best parts of this book were the first and the last chapters. I particularly liked the last chapter because Sen goes from memoir to part manifesto. She claims her self-designation of Not White because it “dares to name whiteness. It refuses to fly the flag of color while allowing the dominant culture to retain its powerful invisibility.” Sen no longer wants to smile and be the entertainer or storyteller. By naming whiteness, she makes it “come down from its high perch of normativity and assume its rightful place among all the other colors.

There’s so much content in this memoir to reflect on that I fear I’m not describing it nearly as well as it deserves. It’s a complex topic (hello, Captain Obvious), but I personally find that reading memoirs helps me to understand different perspectives and experiences. It’s also important to keep in mind that one person’s experience doesn’t define the experience of an entire culture of people.

I feel Sen does a great job exploring the complexities of race from her own experiences. She does her best to recognize different viewpoints. Sen acknowledges that she lived a life of privilege in India; she uses that to highlight how people categorize each other in India vs. the U.S. Her prose is a delight to read and I found myself taking my time with it. If you’re looking for a good memoir and/or work written by an Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI), I highly recommend this.