Sunday, April 26, 2015

Where Curious Minds Grow

I recently had the honor of interviewing Jennifer Green, owner of Green Bean Books on NE Alberta Street here in Portland. We discussed the wonder of children's books, the power of owning an independent bookstore, jellyfish, skunks, diversity in book selection, and the magic that comes with getting to know your customers when both customer and merchant go that extra mile to support and nurture their local communities. On a related note, The Huffington Post just last week featured an article with similar themes: "Housing Works Bookstore Café Shows How Indie Bookstores Can Win In The Age Of Amazon." (Just click on the article's title to pop it up on a computer-screen-near-you. And yep, Housing Works is one of my stops whenever I'm in NYC visiting my brother.)

Now, on to that interview between two major bookworms. I'll be so bold as to questions & comments are in bold below, followed by Jennifer's answers.


How did you come up with the name Green Bean Books?  Your last name is “Green,” but I’m curious about the “Bean” part.  My first thought goes to “Jack and the Beanstalk” – but maybe I’m projecting!

It comes from an old nickname from my past. When I was younger, friends used to call me “Green Bean” or “Bean” because I was super skinny. I used it for the name of my store because I thought it sounded whimsical and represented something that sprouts and grows like crazy…sort of a metaphor for how reading nourishes growth in your imagination.

Were you an avid reader as a child?  If so, what were some of your favorite books?  If not, what – or who – ended up drawing you into the world of books?

I actually didn’t start out as an avid reader. I was the kid that was always outside building forts and running around in the woods around the creek back behind our house. When I was about ten, however, I read Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and I was hooked. I immediately made myself a spy utility belt, created spy routes all around our neighborhood, and took notes on all the neighbors. I’m sure that pleased my parents immensely. Another formative book for me was The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill. I must have reread that book about 20 times. Having grown up in the country in Tennessee, New York City life was so mysterious; I was transfixed by the pushcart politics, not to mention the pea shooters.

What are some of your favorite titles in your store right now, and why?  (*For any or all children’s ages: newborns, toddlers, middle grade readers, young adult.  You even have select adult titles that are the pick of the litter.)

I just finished The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin and LOVED it! It’s a middle reader about a girl that becomes obsessed with jellyfish and the statistics of science when her best friend suddenly dies in a seemingly unexplainable drowning accident. It’s one of the best explorations of grief that I’ve come across for that age level. It is released in September by Little Brown and I can’t wait to recommend it!

My latest favorite young adult release is The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. It’s a creepy girls’ detention center mystery involving bullying, betrayal, murder, and ghosts…everything you need in a suspenseful book!

My current favorite picture book is The Skunk by Mac Barnett and Patrick McDonnell. It’s about a dedicated skunk who tirelessly stalks a man who is more than eager to lose him. When the man actually does lose him, however, he finds that he misses him terribly. Not sure about the stalking message, but the pictures and text are truly hilarious!

When did you first think to yourself, “I want to open an independent bookstore”?  Did you have a lightning bolt moment of realization, or was it a slow build due to a series of events in your life?

I think the idea to open a bookstore just slowly evolved. I had been teaching elementary school for about ten years and needed a change. As a teacher, I knew my favorite part was sharing the books that I loved with others. I sort of became known as the teacher to borrow books from because my collection was so extensive…I had my own little library. It just seemed natural that I would use what I knew about books and children’s literature to continue to share it with others in another way. I always have also cherished community, and independent bookstores are the perfect place to make connections with friends and neighbors.

How do you see yourself fitting into the book industry alongside gargantuan game-changers such as Amazon, or powerhouse-indie Powell’s?

I’m not really trying to compete, but rather coexist. I think there is room for all of us in this industry. I think people come to my store for very different reasons than they would go to a giant store or to shop online. Most customers who shop at my store are regulars. I know many of them by name and often have something in mind to suggest for them to read next as soon as they come in. This is something that is really difficult to replicate online or in a huge store where you are more anonymous. […Cheers theme song fades in background…]

I’ve tried to create a place that offers people an interactive experience as well: dioramas to discover, quirky vending machines to operate, activities to engage in, and most of all, people to connect with.

My partner Gus thinks independent bookstores are the successful wave of the future.  As more and more corporations merge, more and more of that personal touch and connection with consumers will be lost or shuffled off to the side at best.  Gus’s philosophy: Owning an independent bookstore opens the literal and figurative door to meet the needs of one’s local community, and indie entrepreneurs can thrive by moving to meet the needs of this niche market.  This paradigm allows for a deeper level of engagement with the book lovers who frequent independent bookstores.

I wholeheartedly agree with Gus’s philosophy! I do think the majority of the people that come into our shop really want to talk books with us. Most seem eager for our recommendations and may want to share theirs with us as well. We’ve had many instances also in which connections made over books have led people to share very intimate information about a death or a personal transformation…I definitely feel like we’ve made some significant connections with people who we now view more as friends instead of just customers.

Of course, when someone comes in who wants to be left alone and get lost in a world of books all on their own, I feel like I can spot it right away and try to give them the quiet space that they need to explore. I’m kind of like that myself when I go into a bookstore, so I totally understand just needing a peaceful space sometimes.

What types of clients seem drawn to Green Bean Books, or is there a wide variety that’s hard to pinpoint?  What are some of your favorite client stories? 

People are always coming in with partial memories of books for which they are searching. They present us with a few words in the title or perhaps a description of the story for us to puzzle through and figure out what the book is that they are in search of. I always enjoy these challenges and find it so rewarding when we figure the book out.

Once a customer came in and said that the book they were searching for had “a red cover with kind of a matte finish” and that’s it!  It was the sparsest description we’d ever been presented with! Sometimes you just have to stop everything and laugh!

What kind of relationships have you built with children’s authors, both local and outside of Portland?

Oh, I’ve been so lucky to have met so many amazing authors and illustrators in Portland and even all around the country. People in the children’s book industry are so kind and creative! There have been many instances when authors and illustrators have jumped in to support our store, like on Independent Bookstore Day. Several even became booksellers for an afternoon! We couldn’t do what we do without them, and I think they rely on us as well.

What would you like to see more of in children’s literature, across all ages?  In other words, how do you feel the book industry can strengthen and encourage diversity?  I’m particularly thinking in terms of race, sexual orientation, families living in low income brackets, different religions, those living with physical or cognitive challenges, other non-traditional families, etc.  The list goes on.  Admittedly, I’m pushing my own agenda a bit here, and I’m sure we could fill up many blog posts with your answers.

Yes, it would be wonderful to see more diversity in the characters and stories in the children’s lit. world. I think in the past year, it’s been brought a little more to the attention of publishers, writers, bookstores and everyone in the industry with the We Need Diverse Books movement. This is just the beginning, though…We need to all work together to create change, follow through, and achieve true diversity. It’s so important that kids see themselves in the characters and stories that they read about.

And also that they have opportunities to see and feel others' stories, those experiences of folks different from them, so their minds and hearts expand. Now tell me more about your artistic endeavors, which are mentioned above.  You are quite the creative go-getter!  I love all the handmade magical creatures that grace your store, courtesy of your talents.  Patrons are able to shop for books and search for other fanciful additions for themselves or loved ones.  You even name those adorable, fuzzy finger puppets.

I’ve always loved projects and making things. In fact, I view Green Bean as just one big project. I have a craft room space at my house that looks out over my garden, and I love to just sit at the table with my dog Clyde curled up at my feet, the radio on, and just craft away. I completely get into a peaceful, bliss-zone. There is nothing I’d rather be doing…Well, besides reading a good book! 

Tell me a bit more about your story-times, craft stations, puppet shows, and other events.  I love getting your email blasts: they are filled to the brim with opportunities to connect with books, other families, and the child-at-heart inside each of us. 

I try to create events and activities that I would have been drawn to as a child…and most times it’s not very difficult to imagine because I never really feel like I grew up entirely.

In the past couple of years, I’ve really tried to increase our number of events that we offer at Green Bean. Instead of people thinking, “I wonder if anything is going on at Green Bean today?” I want them to think, “I wonder WHAT is going on at Green Bean today?” I’m trying to turn GBB into a nest of activity! It’s just another way to bring people in our community together that have similar interests. I love having Green Bean as a meet-up place!

The architectural layout of your store is impressive.  It’s almost like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia.  You step inside and…there’s this whole extra room off to the left!  Plus, there’s the fairy tale garden area off the back deck, where you host your spring and summer story-times.

Yes, when people come into our store, they often say that it’s much bigger than it looks from the outside because it just keeps winding around like a snail. I love using our outdoor deck area when it’s warm enough. There’s nothing more magical than when we have story time under the draping reading tree fort. I am so glad that we have the garden on days like Fairy Day when kids build fairy houses all over the yard, and then during the Easter egg hunt too! Sometimes when I’m toiling away at weeding and watering it crosses my mind that this was not exactly what I thought bookstore ownership would involve…but then I realize that it’s all SO worth it!

You have a top-notch staff, including Earl Dizon.  I’d never met anyone who loves young adult author Christopher Pike as much as I do until I met Earl!  (He’s giving me a run for my money.)  I’m always impressed by the kindness and knowledge of everyone who works at GBB.

Yes, I am so grateful for my staff! I try to choose knowledgeable and kind people to be a part of Green Bean. Since it’s such a small space to work in, I like to choose people that I truly enjoy being around. Everyone’s got a great sense of humor. We joke around quite a bit with each other and we sincerely appreciate each other's company.

Okay, let’s end with a fun and silly question: What’s the craziest thing someone has ever said to you (or someone else) inside your store?

Oh, crazy and funny things are happening all the time in here…Let’s see…

Recently, when I said we’d have to move back Spanish Story Time to a later hour because I didn’t realize how important nap time was, the response from our Spanish Story Time leader was, “I’m glad you can be so honest with me about your napping needs, Jennifer.”

I’m so happy to work with zany people!


...And I'm so happy to have had the chance to get to know Jennifer Green better, through this interview. Green Bean Books is located at:

1600 NE Alberta Street
Portland, Oregon 97211

You can also learn more by clicking here.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Written Feverishly in Youth; Remembered (in Pieces) Always; Found in a Box Last Week

*Rose, you asked me a few weeks ago if I'd ever dreamt about Twin Peaks. You are the first person to ever ask me this. I believe your magic, your question, conjured my discovery while unpacking long-sealed boxes. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Missing Pieces = Mended Heart

Voila! Charlie asked me to post my thoughts on The Missing Pieces (Fire Walk With Me's deleted scenes, finally released). My message to him -- and his response -- do the trick. Consider this your official spoiler alert.



I'm so glad I watched Twin Peaks in real time, and I'm naturally a bit sad it's all over. I also am like, "I did it!" and now I have some free time back as the days get longer and we move deeper into spring. Like most Peak Freaks, I'm sure, I loved seeing a bit more with Cooper, the toothpaste, and his bloody post-mirror-bashing skull. Annie's scene in the hospital -- with the nurse who takes the owl ring -- is haunting. In addition, seeing more of the Teresa Banks/pre-Laura scenes & characters left my heart aflutter; I wanted to lose myself even more in the "Teresa Banks Days". Out of all the deleted scenes, there were a few key ones that I felt could've/should've been included in the theatrical release. Primarily, I loved the scenes with Laura and her mother: Laura helping her mother with the groceries -- and cigarette handling! -- for instance. I don't feel we got enough time with this daughter/mother team in Fire Walk With Me; some of the nuances were missing (pieces!), and are now found in these deleted scenes. Also, I love Laura's scene at the Haywards, with Donna and her parents -- that would have been a good addition.

It meant the world to me to spend time with other characters, as well, though it was easier for me to see why they weren't included in the film. It would have been for the fans -- no harm there, of course! -- but in service of Fire Walk With Me focusing on Laura (after the lengthy Teresa Banks prologue), it makes sense that Lynch took a deep breath, cursed any Powers That Be that forced his hand, and streamlined the film, ambivalently tucking those scenes away. Who knows how they would -- or wouldn't -- have been folded into the final film. My favorite deleted scenes were actually those featuring Norma: when she cries in the diner, and even more so, when she and Ed are in the car cuddled up, listening to dreamy music, and connecting.

As I said to Gus on Saturday, this was my favorite time watching Fire Walk With Me. Ever. Even more so than seeing it in theaters during its original run at the Janesville mall back in the day! The remastered film transfer is exquisite, and I picked up so many details in the settings, and in the choreography if you will, that lent themselves to a deeper appreciation on my end. Plus, I respect David Lynch even more for his tough choices in what to keep and what to cut -- his final cut feels overall cohesive, strong, and urgent.



So much to respond to! Thanks for the feedback about The Missing Pieces. It's funny, you and I share the same favorite scenes. My god, those Norma scenes are exquisite. Norma in the diner, crying. So, so good and moving. You really feel for her -- despite losing Big Ed to Nadine all those years ago it's still a fresh wound. Also, what it must feel like owning a diner in such a small town where there are slow/bad business days. Poor Norma. And the scene in the truck between Norma and Big Ed. Jesus. So incredibly good. "That's you and me, Ed, so far away. . . One. Giant. Crash-up." And the music is so haunting and affective. And those trees at night seem to be dancing/connecting to that dreamy music you mentioned.

I, too, love those mother/daughter scenes. That scene with Laura beneath the fan . . . Gulp. It's BOB crawling over the couch again in the way it twists something so normal into something frightening. I'll never look at the slow spread of a smile quite the same way again. Jesus God.

The scene where Doc Hayward reads Laura the "message" is so heartbreaking. Eileen's eyes convey such sadness and seem to hint that she was more aware about Laura's world than suspected.