Monday, August 10, 2015

For the love of Mary Stewart

I had an unhappy bookstore situation yesterday that prompted me to write this for a mystery readers list I'm on. Then I thought, hey, may as well post it here. Are you a fan of Mary Stewart? Of another author who is no longer valued (or perhaps never got the respect you think she should have)? Read on!

I hope the list will allow me a little rant.

I am lucky enough to live in an area with several bookstores within walking distance, and one of my favorite weekend activities is to browse (and often buy) at them. Usually my browsing is very general. I chat with the staff (who know my taste), I look through the stacks. Today, my browsing was more directed. In a few days, I’l be heading to Cape Cod for a week, and I was specifically looking for a certain kind of involving read. I’m in the midst of writing, so I wasn’t looking for crime fiction. And I’ve finished the new Naomi Novik (“Uprooted”), which I’d thought would be a perfect do-nothing-for-hours-but-read, maybe take a dip in the middle type read. (Full disclosure, I’ve also torn through the new Daniel Silva, who usually brings one out just in time for my Cape getaway. I can read him without any risk of his work bleeding through into mine.)

Anyway, spent a good forty minutes or so at my favorite local indie without finding anything that really struck me. Toyed with “How to Build a Girl” and did buy Emma Donoghue’s “Frog Music,” which looks like a return to her earlier historical form, which I prefer. But then it struck me. I was in the mood to re-read some Mary Stewart. I had dug out “The Crystal Cave” after her death in 2014, and I thought “The Hollow Hills” might be perfect. But, alas, my local indie didn’t have any.

OK, fine. Smaller store with limited stock. I love them anyway, but since we are going away, I didn’t want to ask them to order a book that might not arrive in time. And, I’ll confess, I figured the big Barnes and Noble-run store two blocks away would have Mary Stewart in stock. Maybe not all her books. I mean, “Touch Not the Cat” wasn’t huge. But surely the Arthurian books, right?

No. Three floors of books – and this isn’t including the textbooks – and nothing. Best sellers by TV personalities. Tolstoy (in translation and not). And just about everything Phillippa Gregory has ever written, so they’re not averse to a good historical romance. But no Mary Stewart.

I went to the help desk and asked a nice enough looking gent – an adult, of at least 40 – if the store had any Mary Stewart in stock. No. I specified “E-W” Stewart, in case he was misspelling her name. No. Then I looked over and saw that he was googling “E.W. Stewart.” I explained that, no, I was simply specifying the spelling of her name, and it hit me that he had never heard of her. While I watched, he pulled up her Wiki page and turned to me. “It seems she died in 2014,” he said. “And she was nearly 100 by then, so her books aren’t really current.”

Well, no. I conceded. “But they were.” He smiled at me, the kind of smile that made me feel both old and irrelevant, and that seemed to have everything to do with the listing of one of my favorite authors as “Gothic Romance” and not of me as a potential client. And I left. And not until I was on the pavement did it hit me that I should have said, “But Henry James is dead. As are Normal Mailer, and Saul Bellow. And Goncharov’s “Oblamov” came out over a 100 years ago. And would you even be carrying Jane Austen if her work hadn’t been made into so many movies?”

Blech. It’s sexism, I say, and I’m sick of it. And then I turned to my husband and said I’m going to write rant about it. And he said, good idea.

PS - This is by my husband, in praise of bookstores:

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