by Charlee Vale
Allow me to tell you a story.
One July evening in 2008, my family is participating in one of our favorite pastimes: hanging out at the bookstore. We are separate, but together. My mother is perusing craft and art magazines in the comfy chairs in the cafe, my father is in the music section with his head buried in a book about classical guitar technique, and I float. I drift from fiction to children's to teen and back again. I swing by science fiction and end up in drama.
Now, this was back when Border's was Border's, and at this local store I knew the sales people, the layout, even the music they would play. Some families had Sunday dinner, we had Sunday bookstore time. And Monday, and Tuesday, and whatever day of the week we felt like going and diving into what seemed like endless stacks of books.
After getting my father to but me a chai tea latte from Border's Cafe (which, to this day, is still the best chai I've ever had), I found myself perusing the stage plays. I had just completed my freshman year as a theatre major and wanted to consume as much theatrical literature as possible. I suddenly stop in my tracks as I see the cover of a play. A black and white photo of a woman. Just a woman, staring out at the camera with immeasurable sadness. I picked it up and turned it over and read these words:
"This happened on December 30, 2003.
That may seem a while ago but it won't when it happens to you..."
Chills ran over my entire body.
I immediately took the play back over to the cafe and began reading. I read a good 30 pages before we left that night. I purchased it, and finished it that night, dumbstruck. That play was the one woman show The Year of Magical Thinking, adapted from Joan Didion's memoir of the same name.
Three years later, I performed that show as my capstone. My Senior Theatre Project. I went on an amazing journey with this play, and it's still something I am so proud of. But what would have happened if I hadn't been at Border's that one night in July?
Looking around, many people get their book recommendations from the internet, social media, friends, as they should. But my life has been so affected by books that I just stumbled upon, possibly more than the books I sought out, that I can't help but try to get other people to try it.
I discovered my all time favorite book--The Scent of Magic by Andre Norton--by running my fingers across the spines in a library. I tripped over Watermark by Joseph Brodsky in that same Border's, and he is now one of my favorite writers.
This will sound cheesy, but books have power. The ones that are meant to change your life will find you if you let them. So why not give it a try? Go to a bookstore, turn off your phone, and just look. Go to a section you normally don't visit. Maybe it will be something in the cover, maybe the first sentence will make you gasp, maybe there's nothing but a feeling, but it's worth a try.
So that's my story. I believe in book serendipity. Do you?
Charlee Vale is a Young Adult writer, bookseller, photographer, and tea lover living in New York City. You can also find her at her website, and on Twitter, and randomly picking up books of of shelves.