IBW2021: Karin Nordin on books as friends

To celebrate Independent Bookshop week, author Karin Nordin (Where Ravens Roost) discusses how bookshops were her most reliable companion when moving around as a child.

Next stop? Bookshop!

I don’t have a first bookstore memory, but I have many I’ll never forget. There was the time my best friend and I accidentally hid from her crush in the erotica section. To avoid being caught by the bookseller in the 18+ aisle we crawled, Mission: Impossible-style, across the carpet to the sci-fi/fantasy collection. Fortunately, the bookseller didn’t see us. Unfortunately, my friend’s crush did. There was also the time I won a costume contest for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. When the bookstore closed I sat in the parking lot in my robes and tie, hair teased like a rat’s nest, reading like mad until mall security told me I had to go home. And while no one has yet to actually believe this story, I’ll never forget the day I saw a spur-clinking supernatural spectre – yes, a cowboy ghost! – roaming the bargain bins at an indie bookstore in Phoenix.

But the fondest bookstore memory for me can’t be contained in a single moment. Growing up, my family moved more frequently than a traveling circus. By the time I moved out of my parents’ home I’d lived in at least twenty different houses, eight cities, five different states, and attended six primary schools. While I had no trouble making friends, I quickly learned that by the time the next school term came around, we might be back on the road to someplace new. And in pre-internet days that meant starting all over. (Because eight-year-olds don’t make the most reliable pen pals.)

Paperback companions

My mother, an avid reader herself, made it a tradition to start every new move with a trip to the local bookstore. Books became the friends I never had to leave behind. I could pack them up in my suitcase and take them with me. I would read them cover-to-cover on the five-day drive across the country, my sisters snoring in the backseat of the station wagon, the cat howling for hundreds of miles. And if I finished a novel before the end of the trip, we would take the next exit and find another bookshop. More paperback companions to ease the worries of a child without ties to a single place. I could relive all of my favorite adventures over and over without the fear of having to lose my friends. And then we’d come to a new town, a new state, and find a new bookstore with new stories to keep me company and fuel my imagination until the next move.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say I was raised on every bookstore from the midwestern suburbs of Ohio to the California coast. From the secondhand paperback shop in North Dakota to the monolithic megastores in Arizona and every bookshop in between. They provided the one constant passion in my life which, to this day, hasn’t changed: a love of reading. And from that, a love of writing.

Read the rest of the IBW2021 series here. Read Karin Nordin’s Where Ravens Roost now, available now from your local bookshop or on bookshop.org.

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