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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Remembering Scott Meyer, Bookseller & Human Being Extraordinaire

I first met Scott at a reading conference nearly a decade ago. I had been invited to the conference to sign my newest release, Rebekkah's Journey, an historical fiction picture book about a World War II refugee camp in Oswego, New York.  Scott was the bookseller who sponsored the conference and arranged the selling of authors' books. 

My humble stack of published works was piled on a table that I shared with the author of some heavy, wide-spined, historical novels.

Across the sales square, Da Chen was signing copies of his latest book; the line of customers eager to meet him spilled out of the author's signing square and into the hotel walkway. There was a line by my table too, but that was only because Scott and his traveling register were to the left of me. Customers had to pass me in order to pay for their Da Chen treasures, books which they balanced on arms sacredly outstretched so as not to smear the ink from Da Chen's hallowed mark. 

To my right, the historical novelist hawked his own literary treasures. No thank you, customer after customer replied, I don't really like historical stuff. Quickly, I averted my eyes, intensely interested in another author's book that I had taken for just that purpose. Book signings can be very uncomfortable for unassertive authors wanting to evade pitying looks from disinterested shoppers. I had learned to prepare.

What do you like to read, the author to my right continued, unwilling to let a possible sale go by without a more appropriate sales pitch. Adventure? Romance? My books are full of adventure! Full of romance!  Apparently these glorious historical novels could fulfill whatever need a reader communicated. Before noon, the right side of our heavily laden table was cleared and the shameless historical novelist departed shortly after Da Chen. 

I spread out my wares and passed the remainder of the afternoon chatting with Scott. Scott was a storyteller. I learned about his children, his friends, the community of Millbrook (which he loved), and Alison, his wife, (whom he loved even more). Scott listened to stories about my family as well and by the time the conference closed, Scott and I were friends. 

Though I had sold a few books, far more needed to be packed up and returned to his store. Most of the authors had left by then and looking around at their stacks of unsold books, I offered to help Scott and Alison rebox them. Such a simple gesture. Certainly nothing which required that much time, any extreme effort or even the slightest gallantry - the usual paths to long-lasting friendships. But somehow, for whatever reason, this simple gesture was enough to tether Scott to me forever. From that moment, Scott hand sold my books as fervently as my neighboring historical novelist had pedaled his whatever-you-want-it-to-be-it-is novels. 

From my perspective, the seeds of our friendship blossomed because of Scott's oversized generosity, his appreciation of any act of kindness - however small - and his magnanimous interest in a quiet, little known author who preferred hiding under the table rather than hawking books from behind it.

Scott brought me to conferences, set me up in seminars and even asked me to accompany him to a local NPR interview. I don't think I said much at that interview but I did continue to help box and move books whenever I could. It was the very least I could do for a bookseller whose every word to me was of kindness, encouragement and support. Scott loved books, but he loved people even more.  

This past summer, Scott died after a valiant struggle with cancer. For years he had faced his illness with courage, humor and stories - always there were stories. At the memorial service people from every walk of life stood up and shared personal memories of Scott's kindness, his value to the community, his love for family and friends.  I wanted to stand up as well, but speaking before a packed congregation is even more daunting than speaking from behind an author's table. 

After the service I looked for Alison, hoping that in a less public moment I would find the appropriate words of comfort and support. I waited my turn, but again words failed me. Finally face-to-face, Alison and I hugged. All I could stutter was, I loved him, Alison. I loved him. 

Scott used to say that once somebody shared a story with him, they were stitched into the fabric of his soul. Tell them the story about the veteran in Washington Square, he'd say to me. Don't forget the click-click on the cobblestone streets. Like a child hearing a familiar bedtime story, Scott always insisted that I include every detail from my original telling. You didn't mention the patches. Tell them about the patches. 

It occurred to me during one of my retellings and again more recently when I visited him in the hospital, that Scott was that rare individual who actually listened heart and soul when someone spoke to him. In Scott's world everyone mattered and he gave the same attention to students and senior citizens, to little known writers and best-selling authors. I think this is why I loved him. I loved the stories Scott shared about his favorite authors, his favorite books, the poems in his pocket. I loved his warmth, his openness, his firm belief in the power of goodness and kindness; but most of all I loved Scott's faith, not his religious ideology, but his genuine, unshakeable faith in people

Scott was a superb bookseller because he knew people. He hand sold books not because that allowed him the opportunity to change the focus of a book to meet the need of a reader, but because he knew the people with whom he came in contact. He listened to their stories and heard their requests. He knew what books might speak to them - and always had a story or two to accompany his suggestions. When Scott placed a book in a customer's hands, he was offering them a piece of himself, a reflection of his knowledge and expertise, but even more than that, a literary manifestation of the fabric of his soul.
    
Local papers posted a long and impressive obituary for Scott. He was a teacher and a coach. He was on a number of boards and countless committees. He hosted a radio program and founded a literary festival. These are grand accomplishments and testimony to a life lived to the fullest. But Scott's greatest gifts remain hidden, tucked in personal libraries, on school bookshelves and permanently stitched into the hearts of those - like me - who loved him.