At New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute, we get to see so many amazing people and hear about their brilliant, envy-worthy careers. So far, however, I have to say that the best experiences in the program have taken place outside of the Woolworth building. To have the chance to see so many different places, all having to do with the industry that we love so much, is what I’ll cherish the most.
Friday, we had the pleasure of heading off to independent bookstores for a tour. My roommate, Katherine, and I both chose Books of Wonder. I hadn’t put much thought into the decision, as I hadn’t heard of the bookstores listed. I knew, however, that I’d made the right choice when our friend Taylor beamed and said, “It’s a children’s book store!” I couldn’t be any happier. Children’s books have always been home for me. When others are reading critically acclaimed literary fiction, I’m curled up with a middle grade novel. I attribute this to a mild case of Peter Pan Syndrome, but mostly to the fact that the stories I read as a child still resonate inside of me, and I never want to let them go.
Books of Wonder is my dreamland. My Neverland.
When I walked into the store, I first noticed how bright and airy everything seemed. Pastel colors matched with others more vivid and iconic images from my favorite picture books lining the tops of filled shelves. I was eager to start browsing those shelves, to find something new among all of the nostalgia, but I had to sit patiently with my peers until our entire group arrived. That, in itself, was a pleasure. Books of Wonder is also home to a cupcake café and a small seating area where customers can enjoy a baked treat and read. My gluten-free body forbade me from trying anything, but despite this, the bakery added to that pleasant atmosphere.
Finally, we were let loose in the store. I forced myself to move at a leisurely pace, not wanting to miss any titles that might change my life (Oliver Jeffers won my heart with his The Incredible Book-Eating Boy. What an amazing picture book!).
When I came across Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret, my heart performed every clichéd reaction to finding everything it ever wanted, everything it ever loved. The predecessor to the acclaimed film, Hugo (Scorsese 2011) combined everything the young Amelia ever looked for in a book. It brought magic, film, and George Méliès with his trip to the moon. And the current Amelia had yet to read it. This was the first time I had ever laid my hands on the book. When I opened it and found the beautiful imagery that had made the film so memorable to me, I couldn’t put it down. I discovered that The Invention of Hugo Cabret was so much more than just a book that had been adapted into an Academy Award winning film. It was a completely different reading experience, one that I had to have, one that I would have wanted that young Amelia to have.
And it was signed by Brian Selznick. I had to force myself to put it down. I couldn’t afford it. No. Absolutely not. Being able to afford somewhere to live was more important, I told myself. Slowly, I placed the book back on the shelf.
It was a timely decision too, for we were being called toward the back of the shop, where Peter Glassman was waiting for us. Peter is a middle aged man, who probably hasn’t gone a single day without speaking the praises of children’s literature. The moment he began speaking about his favorite titles, I wished and hoped that I could someday be like him, that I could somehow share my favorite children’s titles with the world—young or old. What an amazing career that would be, not only to do work that I love, but to feel as though that work was making a difference somewhere. This is how Peter spoke of his job. He spoke about all of the books and writers he loved and missed—Maurice Sendak, Diana Wynne Jones, and Barbara Cooney with tears in his eyes.
He amazed me. It was so inspiring to meet someone who never lost their inner child, who still cherished all of his favorite stories and got emotional just at the mentioning of them. More than just a few of us choked up by the end of his speech.
And the second the tour was through, I ran back to the shelves and picked up that copy of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Peter had reminded me that money was never wasted when it was spent on a book you loved. And I might not have read that book yet, but I already loved it because it would always serve as a reminder of how much Peter Glassman made me feel that day.
I left the store without any regrets.