Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Buying Books at the National Archives

Once upon a time--it was probably several years into our marriage, because for the first biO I couldn't really afford to buy books, but once I could, all bets were off--my husband asked, "Do you ever think you'll have gotten enough books?"

I blinked. I'd really never considered the question. But I gave him an honest answer: "only if people quit writing new ones."

At my last school visit, a 6th grader asked me how many books I read. "Probably, um, five or six a week," I said. Another child raised her hand. "That's, like, practically one a day," she said.

"Yeah," I said. "That's about right."

I just spent the weekend in Washington, DC. This was a trip we'd promised our daughter for her fall break, only to have the government shut down. We'd moved it to the very few days in which her spring break overlapped with our college-age son's spring break, and did our best to hit the highlights. Saturday started out with the Air and Space Museum. We took a docent tour. I loved it because it was all stories; the rest of the family thought it a bit long-winded. We all took naps during the planetarium show--sorry--and then we capped the experience with a trip to the museum bookstore. Gift shop. Whatever.

I love museum bookstores. They rank right up with my very favorite independent bookstores (for the record: Parnassus in Nashville, Malaprop's in Asheville, and Kids Ink, Indianapolis) in terms of browsing potential. Museum bookstores have quirky history books you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, and I never pass up a good opportunity to do research. Even when I was a kid I loved these bookstores--when I was eleven we came to Washington, and I bought books about Lincoln's assassination at the store in the Ford Theatre. I got on a serious Lincoln kick; if I'd have been older, I'd have written a book about him.

So. The Air and Space museum, in terms of books, was a bust. Sorry, but there you are.

After that we went in search of good ice cream, found it, then walked miles to the Jefferson Memorial, where they did not sell my book in the (very small) bookstore. Duh, said my husband. We were at Jefferson's shrine, not likely they wanted to mention his enslaved offspring. I noted they weren't selling Annette Gordon-Reed's book there, either.

The next morning we went to the National Archives. Honestly, you could take any old yellow smudged piece of parchment and call it the Declaration of Independence: the original is just not readable anymore. But still kind of cool. I could have spent hours in the Archives bookstore, which beckoned me like those sirens from the Odyssey, except that we ran out of time. We had to get back to the hotel, get our son's luggage, and get him onto a plane going back to his college. So I just ran in, for a quick peek, and there it was: my book, Jefferson's Sons, for sale.

It was completely cool. I took a photo and put it on Facebook. (You can't photograph the Constitution, but nobody seemed to mind my taking photos in the giftshop). If I'd have thought I'd have looked for one of my older books, The President's Daughter, but I didn't. I just left happy, thinking about the kid who'd stumble upon my book, while visiting DC for the first time, and maybe get on a Jefferson kick, and maybe grow up to write books, like me.