In sixth grade, the local library left me in the lurch.
My first-ever English teacher assigned each student in her class a separate author. For homework, we'd read that writer's work throughout the year and file periodic reports about what we liked or learned from each new volume. Mrs. Kendrick assigned to me Walter Dean Myers. Born in West Virginia but raised in Harlem, Myers wrote about civil rights and basketball, murder and death, going to war and coming back home. Perhaps the choice was random, or maybe my adolescent Southern drawl, love of history, and life on a farm a few miles away inspired her assignment.
- Illustration by Chris Williams
In any event, I loved Myers. In a matter of months, I had read Fallen Angels and Hoops, Motown and Didi and Scorpions. The school year was only a quarter finished, but the little library at Harnett Central Middle featured no more Myers. If I wanted more titles, I'd have to find them.
That weekend, my mom drove me thirty miles north, to Raleigh's Ridgewood Shopping Center. For the first time that Saturday afternoon, I walked into Quail Ridge Books, a store so big and bursting with books that my rural mind assumed there could only be one such wonder in the world. Mom handed me twenty dollars, and we left with The Glory Field, Myers's story of an African-American family breaking beyond the vestiges of slavery. I finished it by the next week's end. Soon, we headed back to Quail Ridge.
On Saturday, just as the sun began to press against the horizon, I walked into Quail Ridge on Wade Avenue for the final time. Three hours later, the staff would lock the door and start shuttling the stock to a new location, five miles away in the more ostentatious North Hills shopping center. A lease disagreement compelled the store, in the same spot for more than three decades, to skip another extension.
That evening, a dozen people browsed, all of us shushed with a near-funereal reverence, though the store was only relocating. Yes, we looked for titles we'd skipped, intending to take them home with a 25 percent discount, but mostly we just looked—at signed portraits of authors who had spoken there, at shelves from which we'd grabbed this volume or that, at the counter where we'd all gotten two-dozen recommendations.
I have a hard time selling, borrowing, or lending books; once I've read them, I want them around, as though they are paper plates in a lifelong suit of armor. (Yes, I still own The Glory Field.) I wonder, then, how it will feel to let go of a bookstore, the first one I ever loved and the first to suggest how much there was to know.