Kindred Spirits

Tonight I went book shopping, looking for a gift, and wound up having an incredible conversation with the young man from the information desk.  Usually when I go to that desk, I get the help I need and I go on with my shopping.  The person behind the desk looks up whatever I’m looking for and then points me in the right direction.  Little did I know that I’ve been settling for no-frills service before tonight.

I told the guy at the desk that I wanted a book for someone who loves Octavia Butler. It seemed like such a simple thing to say.  Instead, he put his head in his hands then rubbed his eyes and frowned.  “Oh.  Octavia Butler.  Well.  She was just amazing, wasn’t she?”  And then we were off.  He started talking about how wonderful her writing is (too true!) and how there really aren’t any writers who are anything like her (also true), and how someone who likes Butler has a very particular taste for quality writing, for thinking, for wrestling with hard questions in an unusual way (true again).

(My sister says there are two reasons strangers talk to me.  First, they look at my face and can see that I’ll respond if they talk to me.  Second … well … I dorespond when they talk to me.  And not just in monosyllables, but in ways that encourage them to keep talking.  Yeah, ok.  Guilty as charged.)

As he shook his head and rubbed his eyes again, I explained that I am actually not reading some of her books — particularly Kindred — because I want to have something to look forward to.  There won’t be any new ones coming out, and I want to have the promise of those unread books to look forward to.¹  That stopped him in his tracks for a second, then he smiled.  “Yes, I can see your logic,” he said.  He started running through possible authors to try — Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury (he is holding off reading Fahrenheit 451 until he can find the audio book because he wants the experience of hearing the story told as he reads it) — then he turned to leave the desk.  “Follow me over here,” he said.

He led me over to one of the book tables and handed me a copy of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.  Not where my mind would have gone at all, but I let him tell me about it, tell me why he thought it could be a good choice: funny, extremely well written, interesting concept, alternative history/reality, a different kind of speculative fiction.  And then he took me over to another book table to showed me Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives.  And then we just stood around talking about Octavia Butler and all the reasons we love her, all the reasons she should be unfathomably famous, and all the ways her writing can bend your mind and all the writing he did back and forth with people online during the presidential campaign talking about why he was so certain Obama would win and what a victory would mean in terms of what would have to be happening in the minds of millions of people all over the country, how that kind of elaborate mental transformation reminded him of Butler’s writing, and, and, and … 

This all ended with the decision that I should be pursuing a doctoral degree.  No, I’m serious.²  And then he said the best thing: “So, in a few years when I run into you on the street — or maybe here in the store — we have to talk about this, see where it goes.”



¹  And, too, I just know Kindred is going to be such a powerful read for me that I want to wait until I feel more ready for it, have time on the other end of reading it to just sit silent for days and days as I digest it.

²  And this is weird because here’s this total stranger having the conversation with me, but even more weird because just this afternoon my boss said the exact same thing.


25 thoughts on “Kindred Spirits

  1. A guy I used to work with in the bookstore seemed to hate people. Whenever a customer made a joke, Scott just nodded and looked back down at his book. They didn’t pay him to laugh at jokes, he used to say.

    But all it took was a customer asking a literary question, and this guy was on a holy grail quest. He was running around, searching the database, throwing off one suggestion after another, up and down the ladder to the overstock, just in case someone missed a book when they re-shelved. Then the customer bought a book, and Scott put his head down again for the rest of the day.


    1. You might be onto something. This guy definitely didn’t seem so animated or interested when he was helping either of the folks ahead of me in line. Glad I asked the ‘right’ question!


  2. Elizabeth

    Yours was the first blog I ever read when we started this Slicer journey and I’ve always hunted for it in the list and tried to read it every post. This post was emblematic of why: a good narrative, interesting content, finely drawn characters and good sense of joie de vivre to go along with it.

    Thanks for this lovely post about literature and books and discussing them with like-minded readers, and most of all, for the sense that I’m standing right next to you at this desk, just listening in and enjoying a great conversation.



    1. Thanks so much, Elizabeth! This year’s challenge got away from me so quickly. I never expected there to be so many slicers! Last week I started trying to pick a person and read back through his or her whole month of slices. I think I might finish by tax day, but I’ll get there!


  3. molly

    hey, Dr. Girlgriot! I like this idea.
    Lots of work (lots of money, too). Can you keep teaching at the same time? I suppose not.
    Is this your desire? I can see it that people who meet your mind think it is appropriate. You know what the life of a doctoral candidate consists of, I suppose. Is it what you want?
    And thank you sincerely for three good reading suggestions. As I was reading, I was waiting for the guy to recommend something written by a woman, but I will settle, I suppose. And I will savor Octavia Butler.
    Please share more thoughts about your doctoral degree. I mean, of course, if you want to.


    1. I like this idea and have thought about it a lot over the years. I never think I’m sufficiently ‘scholarly’ to be pursuing a doctorate, but we’ll see …

      And do savor Ms. Butler. She is a treasure!


  4. molly

    Wikipedia says “another short story, “Childfinder,” was bought by Harlan Ellison for the never-published collection The Last Dangerous Visions. (Like other stories purchased for that volume, it has yet to appear anywhere.)” Maybe there will be something new, sometime?
    Do you like Ursula Le Guin? I enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness, but not much else.


    1. I’ve never read Ursula Le Guin, but maybe I’ll check out your suggestion. I tend not be a sci-fi reader … except when I am, you know? I wonder if “Childfinder” was added to the newest printing of Bloodchild or if Ellison is still holding onto it. Have to check that out, too.


  5. Oh we are alike! I have that face and oh, do I talk (my sister has said about the same about me). lol I talk to anybody, anywhere all the time. And I love the interaction you had with this young man. Makes your day, doesn’t it?

    And when you get that doctoral degree, I will be bragging to my other friends how you made that decision to pursue it and you did it!

    Thanks for sharing this.


  6. juliebrock

    Hi long lost blog friend! I have been lurking, I admit, but I am starting to come out of my hermit shell, and it would be a crime *not* to respond to this entry, on so many levels.

    1st – I LOVE Bulter. Dawn is the first I read and I love it so much. Thanks for reminding me how much I love Butler, and I am going to look into Kindred – spring break needs a good read.

    2nd – I LOVE conversations with people. I admit, I am the shy one initially, but if anyone talks to me with a face like yours, I blab on and on and on :).

    3rd – Hooray for a PhD. I can’t wait to hear about that adventure.


    1. Julie!! So happy to see a note from you!

      Yes, Octavia Butler astounds me. Her writing just knocks me flat. Kindred is going to rock my world. I know that without having read one word.


  7. Do it–I know I gripe and moan about the academy, but we could use a few more good women…and it would provide you with enough time to write, your focus would be reading and discussing ideas…think about it, and ask me anything; I’d be happy to help in any way I can! I splashed you, too…really enjoy reading your blog!


  8. elliottzetta

    I don’t drink coffee but I DO eat cupcakes, so bring on the patisserie! I just realized I’ve been calling you Griotgirl when it’s girlgriot…sorry!


  9. I am re reading Kindred now, as a real adult. I read it with a book club in my very early 20’s. I was not ready for the depth of it then, I don’t think I even finished it. I am appreciating it now!


  10. You make me feel like I should read Octavia Butler. (Oh, I do so miss reading books for pleasure.)

    I will second the LeGuin endorsement. Or perhaps I’ll extend it beyond The Left Hand of Darkness. I’d recommend The Dispossessed.


    1. I’m still thinking about how I could make a return to school a reality. There are a lot of things that would have to fall into place, a lot of work that would have to be done … but it’s not impossible. We’ll see what develops …


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