I moved from California to the wilds of Spokane Washington for my undergraduate degree. Honestly, I think it was the farthest I could get from home and still remain in the same time zone. It was my first time living away from home, college was often challenging, the people were new and different and Spokane could be a cold and lonely place, especially in downtown where the winds blew chill between the squat skyscrapers and the Spokane River froze in the winter.
Auntie’s Bookstore in downtown Spokane was one of my refuges. There were other bookstores in Spokane, most of them used bookstores, but Auntie’s was the best full-service new bookstore I’d seen since
Vroman’s in Pasadena. Back then, Auntie’s was located in a building that was formerly the Spokane Flour Mill and had a long floor plan with a low ceiling. A slightly funky basement was filled with used books.
Since I was a college student, I was too poor to buy new books. So I spent hours in the bookstore, sitting on the floor by the hardcover new releases, cracking the hardcovers and reading the deckled pages with pleasure. I’d leave with a few tattered paperbacks in hand, but I always kept up on the best American and world literature I could find at Auntie’s. I read many of the emerging classic contemporary writers sitting in a chair or on the floor at Auntie’s. I remember discovering Annie Dillard at Auntie’s, as well as W.P. Kinsella and Joan Didion.
I probably even encountered Oliver Sacks’s inimitable work at Auntie’s. I didn’t know that in the years to come, when I wrote The Eagle Tree, I’d befriend author and writer Steve Silberman, who was close friends with Oliver Sacks before his death. Back then, I didn’t know how close I’d be to other writers of renown. For me, writers like that were a distant country, a heaven to someday strive to reach.
A few years later, I taught myself the writing craft on my first published novel, Coeur d’Alene Waters. I set the novel in northern Idaho, where I’d lived for some summers and in Spokane, which I knew well. My characters traveled back and forth between Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and Spokane Washington. In honor of the bookstore I knew and loved, I felt like the least I could do was to set a scene at Auntie’s, the bookstore I knew so well. (My main character is not a reader, but his wife was a huge fan of Auntie’s, and that’s how I fit the bookstore into the novel.)
I visited Spokane several times over the years since I left the region, and each time I made it a point to visit Auntie’s. In the mid-1990s, I was surprised to see the Spokane Flour Mill location dark and shuttered and I was a bit upset to find my favorite place missing. Then I discovered that Auntie’s had merely moved to a new and larger location — right down the street on West Main. In this new location, Auntie’s now had two levels above ground, and a new spacious arena in which to display many more books. The bookstore was now airy and open and wonderfully well-lit. This updated Auntie’s was definitely new and improved!
The literary cycle came full circle for me in 2014, when I was able to appear on an author panel and do a signing and reading in-person at Auntie’s. It was exciting to see my books displayed on the shelf at Auntie’s and to see readers avidly pick them up and read through them, in much the same way that I had once read books at Auntie’s myself in my undergraduate days! Here’s the Auntie’s Bookstore listing for one of the events in Spokane. I met several other authors at Auntie’s on the writing panel as well, and we were able to mutually support our book launches that year.
I’m so glad I encountered Auntie’s in college, and I recommend the bookstore to anyone visiting the Spokane region.
Auntie’s Books is one of my literary touchstones, and I’m happy to share that bookstore experience with my readers! Enjoy!
[Read more BOOKSTORE POSTS]
Pinterest – Ned Hayes Bookstore Board