Ann Patchett sits as a child holding the phone awkwardly against her ear, talking to her father on Christmas night. I am holding the book open, propped against the shelf to read it.
I picked it up for the title: “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” — and it really is. This isn’t the kind of book that says “they had everything” when what it means is “they were on the edge of falling apart.” This is the story of people who love and adapt and grow together, and it draws me into that long ago holiday night, a lonely time told with wry intelligence, understanding and a crunch of popcorn chains.
I’m standing by a pyramid of hardbacks in Northshire Bookstore in Manchester. I’ve wanted to come here for years, and it’s living up to the anticipation. The shelves are almost twice as tall as I am, and this wide floor is divided into nooks and tiny rooms walled with books — books as new as solar panels and books written by deft Vermonters 100 years ago, the kind you only find here.
I feel the way I used to as a child in a general store with penny candy in glass jars. Everything shines. And today feels like the days when my family would travel. It feels like a Saturday morning at our town green, or a vacation afternoon following back roads. Today I’m on an expedition.
I’ve come to Manchester for the first time. The reach of my magazine is expanding, and the whole Vermont stretch of Route 7 from the border up here has become mine to explore. The sun is shining, and it’s cold enough to make exploring a dash from one warm building to another.
But on a February Thursday, the Spiral Press Café has blackberry muffins baking. Epoch Artists Collective shows winter photography, ceramic jars, wooden cribbage boards and knitted scarves in bright colors.
As I crunch down the icy sidewalk, wondering where Bonnet Street got its name, a runner sled in an antique shop door catches my eye. I’ve ridden a sled like that down a hillside of hard-frozen snow.
This is going to be a ride — this whole adventure. The newly expanded magazine is a playground, and we’re starting to climb. The days are getting longer. This trip is a first taste. I’ll be back soon.
(I first explored Northshire Bookstore and Manchester Vt., and wrote about them, in my time as editor of Berkshires Week in the Berkshire Eagle in 2014, and I am reviving those impressions here..)