Last week I posted on this blog a memory of having worked for seven years at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, California. Memories of Kepler’s have been on my mind for a couple of years, because over the past couple of years I’ve written a novel, titled Hooperman, set in a hip Palo Alto bookstore during the summer of 1972. The store is fictional, although I must confess I couldn’t have made it up if I hadn’t had such vivid memories of Kepler’s Books and the wonderful, creative people I worked with during the 1970s.
The novel is set in and near Maxwell’s Books, a fictitious store in Palo Alto, California during the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in. Nixon is still President, and the war in Vietnam is still raging, as is the anti-war protest, along with other movements, such as civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, not to mention the sexual revolution. Some of that summer’s best-sellers are: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Joy of Sex, Be Here Now, The Pentagon Papers, Open Marriage, and Another Roadside Attraction. Customers who frequent Maxwell’s Books include Joan Baez, Ken Kesey, Stephen Stills, Jerry Garcia, and Wallace Stegner.
The bookstore is owned and managed by Elmer Maxwell, a leader in the anti-war movement. It serves as a meeting ground for left-wing and counter-culture causes. The staff of fifteen include a socialist and an anarchist who argue loudly throughout the store, two lesbians, a painter, a guitarist, and an imposing bear of a man with Tourette’s syndrome in the back room. His name is Martin West, he’s in charge of shipping and receiving, and he knows more than he is capable of saying.
Elmer is obsessed with the belief that shoplifters are robbing him blind, so he hires Hoop Johnson, a Stanford English Department drop-out now working as a pizza chef from across the street, to be a “bookstore cop,” to prowl the aisles and catch thieves in the act. Hoop is all too happy to take the job, in spite of almost no pay, because he wants so badly to be part of the Maxwell’s staff.
I haven’t been able to find a publisher for this novel. I suppose it’s hard to categorize: it’s a mystery without a murder. Or maybe publishers know there’s not a great deal of interest among today’s readers in the grand old days of independent bookselling, and the seventies aren’t a popular destination in nostalgia tours.
As any writer would feel, I’m disappointed that Hooperman hasn’t found a home. Like any sane writer, I don’t let this disappointment interfere with my general happiness. Like any happy writer, I’m glad I enjoyed the time I spent writing Hooperman, revisiting a past I tremendously enjoyed. I suppose I could epublish the book on Kindle and Nook, as I have done with my Fergus Powers novels; but somehow it seems sadly defeatist to epublish a novel that celebrates real, brick-and-mortar, independent bookstores.
I won’t give up my search, but of course I have moved on and have written myself halfway into another novel.