where the writers are
A book for Christmas

The kettle is making that before-boiling noise in the kitchen. Outside seagulls are mewling, or whatever seagulls do, around the roof of the church, which is better than mournful Sunday morning hymns, and nice also because for a moment I might think I'm on the edge of the sea, back in Vancouver perhaps. There is a Sunday morning quiet. No Christmas shopping on the Sabbath. Though that law may change if big box stores get their way. And why not? Back in California, where shops are open 24/7 (well, almost), I can find it convenient to go to the supermarket at 9 pm or on Sunday.

Last night, coming home around 7 pm, I dropped into Compagnie, the bookstore across from the Sorbonne on the rue des Ecoles. It was full of people browsing, contented as cows in a pasture. No Christmas music, just the cheer of hands lifting plain-covered French books from tables and shelves, stroking the covers, reading a page or two, poking paper like a camembert to test for ripeness, dreaming. It was extraordinarily peaceful. It was unlike any California bookstores I've been in lately, where there'd be more commercial buzz, extraneous things for sale like notebooks or keychains or toys. A scholarly-looking salesperson was there to answer questions but she waited to be approached. There were people waiting to pay.

I found what I was looking for. I lined up at the cash register. "Would you like your books gift-wrapped?" the clerk inquired. No, but I was happy to be asked, happy that people were still buying books to give away, that there were still people who would be excited to unwrap a book on Christmas morning. Books were always my best presents, an excuse to disappear for the rest of the day.