As I stated in my previous post, I am going to be doing a series of blog posts in honor of those who help make others’ literary lives possible, and even wonderful at times. I was going to wait until next week to start the series, but then I realized that the Virginia Festival of the Book is happening now. I thought of Carol Troxell, the former owner of the independent shop, The New Dominion Bookshop, in Charlottesville, Virginia, who died last winter and who helped to establish the Festival.
Last January, on one of those typical drab winter mornings, I received a cryptic email from my friend, Anne Marie Slaughter, informing me that Carol Troxell had died unexpectedly. I was stunned. Carol was such a special woman. She was also a special kind of bookseller. The New Dominion Bookshop was (and still is, at least for now) a unique bookshop—one of those rare shops that serves as an ideal landing place for book lovers. The section for poetry is huge, and is in the front of the store, not tucked away in some dark, depressing basement or backroom. It’s such a dream to browse the books there, to spend hours going over the works of poets whose names I hear but can never find in book stores anymore. I have discovered so many poets on the New Dominion's shelves, some who have not been lucky enough to be reviewed or otherwise recognized. I discovered Amy Gerstler there, long before she had won any awards. (I will have to do an I LOVE AMY post at a later date.)
In addition to displaying a vast collection of books (and not just poetry books, of course, though those are all poetry books in the photo to the right), Carol was a great promoter of poets and writers, regularly hosting readings and book signings, and, as I said in the opening, playing a large role in the Virginia Festival of the Book.
Carol and I go back to the 1970’s, back before she took ownership of the bookshop, when I was in ninth grade, and Anne Marie and I worked at the shop after school. We spent many hours laughing and discussing literature with Carol when we weren't helping customers. Carol had this amazing knack for finding the perfect book for just about anyone. Including me. I still remember the hot June afternoon when she took a slender volume off the shelf and said, I bet you would like this book, Nin! (She always said my name as if it had an exclamation mark after it.) The book was Gestures by Yannis Ristos, a poetry collection I am still in love with. How did she know I would love it? It wasn’t just an ordinary love either. At home I copied Ritsos poems over and over in loopy script, drawing little flowers and cartoons in the margins. I told Carol I wanted to become a poet just like Yannis Ritsos. Never mind that I was an adolescent girl from rural Virginia, and he was an old man from Greece, and the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize. Years later she recommended Murakami to me, a writer I adore but whom she could not abide. Explain him to me, she would say, hands on her hips. And I would try. What laughs we had! I could go on and on, but I will stop for now . . .
I can’t imagine what it would be like to own a bookshop in this era of Kindles and online shopping, but I know it would take someone with the kind of gifts Carol possessed to make it work. She was one of those holdouts who still believed in the integrity of physical books and bookshops. She saw books and her shop as a valuable part of the community, a way of bringing people together in mind and body and spirit. She is deeply missed.
Nin Andrews' next collection of poetry, Miss August, is due out in May. You can sign up for her email (not sure if you want to do that!) or find out more about her by visiting ninandrews.com