Skylarking (n.): wildly playful or mischievous behavior.
When Carrie Koepke and I began thinking about opening an independent bookstore in downtown Columbia, the word that we kept returning to was “community.” Yes, we wanted to sell books, but we wanted much more than that. We wanted to create a place where like-minded people could congregate to talk about books and other interesting things. That’s why, since we opened in August 2018, we have held regular events featuring authors and poets, in addition to open-mic nights, weekly storytimes for kids, teacher appreciation evenings, poetry slams, concerts, fundraisers, and much more.
Needless to say, all that came to an abrupt halt last year when the pandemic struck. Even when our doors were closed to the public for several months, we still put on author events — only now they were online. Events in the virtual world had some advantages. For example, we were able to introduce authors to our customers who might otherwise not have made it to Mid-Missouri, including writers from England and Canada. But it was not the same as being there in person, for the audience or for the authors.
The re-opening process has gone through several (cautious) stages: first by appointment, then with limited numbers, and so on, and always with masks and gallons of hand sanitizer. We quarantined books that customers had touched and did everything we could to reduce the risks of infection while still doing our best to preserve the browsing experience that is so central to any trip to a bookstore. And all the time, we were dreaming about putting on events again. And now, just maybe, we are getting close.
One of the things we had been discussing before COVID hit was the idea of a Skylark book club. Reading is, by definition, a solitary activity, but that makes the opportunity to get together with other people to talk about a particular book all the sweeter. Now, even as we continue to monitor the public health situation, we have cautiously started to put those plans into motion. Starting in September, we will be holding an in-house book club on the last Thursday of each month. We will select a new book that we love — both fiction and nonfiction, big titles and books that you might otherwise miss — and then we will gather in the shop to talk about them. (It goes without saying that this assumes that this will be possible in a safe and healthy way.)
Attendance will be free; the only condition will be that participants will have to buy their copy of the book from Skylark to join in the fun. There’d be no commitment, and people can pick and choose whether or not to attend, depending on whether or not that month’s chosen book appeals to them.
Our first title, which we will gather to talk about at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 30, is a timely and electrifying debut novel, “Of Women and Salt,” by Gabriela Garcia. This is a beautiful book which traces a lineage of mothers and daughters across the Cuban diaspora. Spanning five generations and four countries — from 19th century Cuba to contemporary Miami and Mexico — Garcia’s prismatic debut follows Latinas of fierce pride and longing, all irrevocably linked by the inheritance of trauma and by the writings and stories passed between them. It is an exquisite read, beautifully written and full of heart, and it has earned remarkable early praise. O, The Oprah Magazine raves, “A meditation on motherhood, displacement, and cultural identity . . . this stunningly accomplished first novel is both epic and intimate.” Elle chimes in, “A vast account of family, culture, politics, and the traumas inflicted by all, this gorgeous debut heralds the arrival of a literary star.” Ms. magazine states, “This remarkable debut shines a brilliant light on the broken immigration system and legacy of trauma for the people who endure it.” The Washington Post deems Garcia’s debut “a mesmerizing patchwork of determination, courage, and survival.”
We are pleased to report that Gabriela Garcia will be joining us via Zoom to talk about the book, so people will be able to put their questions directly to the author.
Our chosen title for October is “Harlem Shuffle,” the brilliant new novel by Colson Whitehead. It is published on September 14, and we will be talking about it on Thursday, October 28.
The pandemic has been hard on small businesses everywhere, and we know that we could not have survived without the support of our community. We are so grateful to still be here and are looking forward to welcoming our friends back to Skylark to say thanks in person. There’s no talk quite like book talk, and there’s no talk quite like book talk with wine. And you know the motto: What happens in Book Club stays in Book Club.
Hope to see you there!