All Key-ed Up

You may have noticed my blog has been quiet of late. Part of this is a result of busy months at work. But the last few weeks of silence have been for the best of reasons.


I find coming home to the U.S. after living overseas is like a big gulp of oxygen after holding your breath underwater. It’s not that Suriname is such a dreadful place to live. It just feels so good to be home.

This particular trip back was a whirlwind: a day in Houston, a weekend jaunt to the Midwest, down to Key West to meet my family on their vacation, a few more days in various Texas locales, then a week in my hometown on the Texas Gulf Coast (and surfing!).

With all that travel time, I wasn’t going to be caught without a book in my hand.

So one night in Key West, while my dad and twin brothers were being awesome and doing a night dive around an old shipwreck (their tales of octopus, shark, and fish sightings have made me determined to finally get my scuba certification), I was cheerily getting my nerd on at a local bookstore.

The venue to which I dragged my husband and mom was Key West Island Books, open since 1976. (In today’s hyper-competitive bookstore market, a 41-year run is serious business.) This spot offered all I’ve come to hope for in independent bookstores: that book smell, a cozy space full of half-hidden nooks, step stools to allow one to reach the tallest book-crammed shelf (as a 5′ nothing shortie, I appreciate such amenities), a carefully cultivated collection (here, one specializing in local authors and Florida-, Cuba-, and Hemingway-centric works), and a staff that knows its offerings intimately.

I’m not trying to knock the big book purveyors. As someone living abroad, I love that I can get on Barnes & Noble’s website and have a new print book in my greedy little hands a few weeks later. (I’ve never been able to convert to ebooks, despite intellectually grasping their benefits.)

But there’s no substitute for the entering-a-magical-new-world sensation I get from stepping foot into a local indie. There’s no replacement for book purveyors like those at my favorite bookstore, Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop, who can offer expert recommendations because they’ve carefully groomed (and actually read) what they’re selling. (They got me reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent before it was cool, as well as Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, a hilarious memoir by Jenny Lawson that resonates with me every time due to its overlaps with my own Texas childhood.) There’s nothing like the sense of history and wonder that pervades spots like Key West Island Books.

Which is probably why I left there with three books (and my husband with another four) for which we then had to find space in our luggage.

But that’s the kind of problem I like having.

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