Author Elin Hilderbrand has lived on Nantucket for 20 years. She runs every morning, delivers her children to their sporting events, and occasionally frequents the front row at the Chicken Box. Beautiful Day (Little, Brown) is her 12th novel. Here she offers a tribute to summers of reading and the Brewster Bookstore, Brewster, Mass.
Long before I ever set foot on Nantucket, I was a Cape Cod girl.
The summertimes of my youth, from ages 10-16, were all spent on a charming sandy lane in Brewster. My father and stepmother had a blended family of five children, of which I was the oldest, and my stepsister, Heather, three years younger than I, was number four. Heather and I and our three brothers all have idyllic memories of those summer days--long hours at the beach, miniature golf, ice cream at Emack and Bolio's, stargazing, sunsets, and once, early on the morning of my 13th birthday, the sunrise, followed by steak and eggs at the Homeport restaurant.
But mostly, I have memories of reading, and when I say reading, I mean constant reading. The five of us had chores for which we were awarded a dollar per day, and I spent every single one of my dollars on books, purchased at the top of our lane, at the Brewster Bookstore. In the early years, I read Beverly Cleary, I read A Separate Peace, I read a novel about two girls in Catholic boarding school called The Trouble with Angels. I absolutely loved spending my late afternoons up at the bookstore, and then forking over three or four dollars for a paperback and walking slowly home with my treasure.
Heather also bought books with her money, but alas, she was not as fast a reader as I was. It is well-documented fact that the ONLY fight Heather and I have EVER had (and we are now 41 and nearly 44) was the summer when I would finish my own book and then read the ones Heather had bought.
Not fair, she said. I paid for that.
So? I said. I'll finish it way before you're ready for it.
But you'll break the binding, she said. It won't be new.
So? I said. Who cares?
But I did feel a twinge of guilt. Who doesn't prefer a brand new, uncracked book?
Still a Cape Cod girl in my heart, I visit the Brewster Bookstore every summer. Since I've become a novelist, I have signed there several times, but the majority of my trips have been with Heather, and the six children we now have between us. We spend a late afternoon hour browsing--for though the titles have changed, the store remains much the same as the one from my childhood--and as we approach the register, I always offer to pay for Heather's book.
I figure I owe you, I say.
Yes, she says, and it's like 30 years melt away. You do.