Sunday, September 4, 2011

Stacked on Vacation - Part III

A second visit to Atlantic Books revealed a cheerier side to the store in the person of its friendly, if harried, manager. A table was set up for the visiting author across the boardwalk from the freckle contest that was being held in front of Ocean City music pier. It was family night and a local radio station was set up at a booth a short distance away, giving out prizes. A band down the way played Beatles songs and a sardonic stilt walker dressed entirely in purple greeted children and made age-old jokes with them about being married, provoking laughter among some of the adults and embarassment or confusion among the children.

Atlantic Books in Ocean City, NJ
A banner in the store window read “Beach reading doesn’t have to be dumb” and indeed you can buy Hitch-22, the lively and provocative memoir by Christopher Hitchens, or  The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, an author noted for her use of  magical realism. A selection of local histories with sepia-colored covers from Arcadia publishing including one on the ubiquitous (in New Jersey) WaWa chain and the Campbell’s soup factory sit near the cashier’s counter.  In addition to the expected mysteries, thrillers and romances, all in paperback, the store has a lot of older titles as well, perhaps those that didn’t sell well on first release, but might still catch the eye of a vacationer. A large teen section is an encouraging sign although many of the titles seem to be about mean girls, supernatural creatures or both.

The view from the author's table opposite the music pier.

Back on the boardwalk, between the freckle contest and the ferris wheel, Mr. Stacked is signing copies of Detective Blue. It may be as close to a Norman Rockwell scene as you can get in 2011: large families stroll by, eating ice cream and fried dough, the crowd files into the auditorium at the music pier for a performance of Les Miserables played by local children, a young schoolteacher about to start her first year with a group of fourth graders stops by the book signing table as do a varied group of vacationers with and without children. The evening ends with a cool and refreshing rain, but the timing is perfect. The last book has been signed and the revelers move on to other pleasures of the summer night.

*    *    *

If you're staying in Avalon, about half an hour south of Ocean City,  your best bet for reading matter  is The Paper Peddlar at 2538 Dune Drive or the Avalon Public Library. The Paper Peddlar has a modest selection of books, mostly paperbacks and also sells t-shirts, playing cards, and other vacation paraphernalia. 

Avalon's only bookstore.

Beach toys are also available.

Finally, if you’ve got an environmentalist, birder, or all-around animal-lover in your party, you’ll want to stop at the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ. Besides offering the chance to learn about wildlife in the salt marshes, you can get up close and personal with a terrapin, and view a nesting osprey family. The Tidepool Museum Shop has a nice array of bird guides, as well as books on the wetlands, conservation, and the environment for adults and children. The store is acclaimed as  “the best naturalist’s bookstore on the East Coast” on the Institute's web site.  Nature-themed prints, jewelry and other gifts are also on sale.

Stacked on Vacation - Part II

If you’re spending time in tonier Stone Harbor, plan a visit to Barrier Island Books on 301 95th street (open 10 am until 10 pm during the summer.) Owner Rita M. Seaman keeps this inviting little store well-stocked with what her customers want: mysteries, romances, popular fiction. There’s also a fine section on military history, books on religion and general history, and a sweet children’s corner. Some original Nancy Drew mysteries made there way into the inventory not too long ago—culled from private sales, the collection from a school that closed, and local library sales—but were quickly snapped up.  A wicker chair sits outside on sunny days so customers can spend some time reading in the fresh air or waiting for their companions to finish shopping. 

 A sultry sunbather adorns the display window at Barrier Island Books.

The children's section

Among the other books I picked up during my visit was a copy of Reader’s Digest Condensed Volume 2 - 1962.  Readers of a certain age may remember these volumes on the shelves of older relatives. I first discovered the series in my grandparents' elegantly furnished apartment in Chicago, a household also linked in memory with Starlight Peppermints, Hershey chocolate bars with almonds, my grandfather’s strong and principled opinions and my sweet grandmother’s warm embrace. While the condensed novels may leave you feeling a bit cheated—what’s been left out?—I can’t help feeling fond of these volumes.   The one I picked up at Barrier Island had this pretty seashore themed cover and includes a novel based on a true story, Captain Newman by Leo Rosten.*

A Reader's Digest volume that seems destined to be read at the shore.

The wise and good-humored Captain Newman 
addresses the patients on Ward  7.

Captain Josiah J. Newman was one of the first psychiatrists to develop theories on what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder--the previous generation's shell shock--and its effect on the lives of the World War II soldiers who were his patients. He was also known for his unorthodox treatment methods, which, in Rosten's account, included encouraging a soldier who might today be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, to swear at him twice a day to relieve the unbearable tension of trying to suppress his impulses. The addition of color illustrations to the text--somewhat like the Nancy Drew mysteries I read in the 1960s--adds to the nostalgic pleasure of reading a book I associate with childhood.  Captain Newman was later turned into a film (1963) with an all-star cast that included Gregory Peck, Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson, Eddie Albert, Bobby Darin and Robert Duvall. Though I haven’t seen the film yet, film critic Leonard Maltin describes it as a “Provocative well-acted comedy-drama ..[about] battling bureaucracy and the macho military mentality on a state side airbase during WW2.”

Books and a Bite
Barrier Island Books is located in the heart of Stone Harbor, kitty corner from the always-busy  Springer’s Ice Cream, and a number of other places to eat and drink. But if you’re looking for a place to linger with your new (used) copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, go two blocks south on Third Avenue, take a left and you’ll find Coffee Talk. With an interior worthy of a twenty-something sit-com, comfy couches and chairs are arranged in cozy groupings.  You can order coffee, buy a sandwich or pastry and while the time away. And if anyone in your party has forgotten a book Coffee Talk has its own mini-library against one wall where you’ll find more romance novels than you could read all summer, some old volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica and a crafts book or two to inspire your next rainy day project.   

* Rosten may be best remembered for The Joy of Yiddish and the Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N*, an account of teaching English to immigrants in New York City in the 1950s.