Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lend me your ears

Nancy Grayson - Maine Historical archives

Those of you who are used book enthusiasts and longtime Portlanders might well remember Cunningham Books, which shared The Green Hand’s view of Longfellow Square from the other side of the intersection at 188 State Street, in the location where LFK and Miyake are now.

Nancy Grayson, the owner of Cunningham Books, closed the store when she retired at the end of 2010, a year after I opened The Green Hand Bookshop. She told me, “It’s okay – now that you’ve been safely open for a year, I don’t have to worry about leaving this corner without a bookshop on it.”

When the shop was hosting its rousing closing sale, upon which booklovers descended in hordes, The Forecaster’s Randy Billings stopped by to do a story. When he asked her for an interview, Nancy said she wasn’t interested. “I don’t like touchy-feely stories about businesses closing,” she said. [“Closing the books: Longtime Portland bookstore shutting its doors,” October 12, 2010]

This was Nancy to a T. She knew her own mind, and had no problems letting you know what she thought if you couldn’t help asking.

In true Nancy style, Cunningham Books launched two new book ventures with her own closing (that I know of! Maybe there are more…?), my shop across the way and the delicious mystery-lovers’ haven, Mainely Murders (, run by our mutual friends Paula and Ann down in Kennebunk.

Nancy Grayson has always been a woman of few words but of great influence. She was my mentor.

I have known Nancy since I was a teenager, when my life-long used book buying addiction began in earnest. For the usual inexplicable reasons, we hit it off early on, and that friendship only became deeper as the years went on.

In case you don’t know it, dear reader, the book trade is a business one must be mad to partake of. When it became clear that I was a lost cause, unable to stay away from bookbuying, she added to my self-taught experience by adding her own. She advised me on how to pick out better books, showed me how to clean up books that needed help, and encouraged me in thinking and researching for myself.

She ran a tight ship, upholding tremendously high standards for herself and everyone else.
As another friend recently said, it doesn’t matter how much time your have with someone you care about. It is always going to seem like the time was too short when that person is suddenly gone.

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
--William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (II, ii, 32-37)

Nancy passed from this mortal plane in the early minutes of the Ides of March, opera echoing in the shadows of the room.

There will be no memorial service, no burial service, no obituary in the local paper, because that’s how Nancy wanted it. But in the spirit of our friendship, it seems only right that I mark her journey’s departure with words. Just enough words.

I’m sure she knew I was going to do this little write-up. She knew me well.

So fare thee well, Nancy, until we meet again. It’s been one hell of a good wild ride, but as you replied on a cold rainy March evening, the last time I saw you, “It’s only the beginning.”