Of course, there’s more to a bookstore than readings. As John Marshall reflects on his time with Open Books, he’s been thinking about how much he’s learned from his customers. “I have been educated in so many directions by articulate folks possessing a vast array of aesthetics,” he says. He learns about poets and events from customers all the time, and all those many voices have helped make Open Books a two-decade conversation, with the kind of “crackling moments of wit,” he says, “that make life glow.”
Over most of Open Books’ lifetime, it has been a two-person shop, with responsibilities shared between Marshall and his wife, poet Christine Deavel. About a year ago, Deavel took a non-bookstore day job, though of course the store shares half her DNA. Marshall worries that anything he has to say about Deavel “will sound too gushy,” but he’s eternally grateful to her for her companionship and partnership in running Open Books. “She's a brilliant, insightful thinker about poetry and art, a terrific writer, and has the quickest wit I have ever been around. That she trusts me to be an audience for her wit is a grand gift,” he says.
A married couple running a poetry bookshop with a staff of two couldn’t have been all fun and games, could it? “Many times over the years people have confided in me that they couldn't imagine working with their spouse,” Marshall says. “I so lucked out. Even our rare fights,” he insists, “ended in love and comedy.”
As his time at the helm of the store draws to a close, Marshall admits to a “perhaps west-coast hippy thing.” He says he’s “found myself at times feeling a palpable character that is the store. “This happens when I'm alone, usually after closing. Once in awhile I speak to the store; thank it.” Those moments, he says, remind him that “the books, the poets, the customers, me, we're all transient” in the history of “the animal that is the store.” Now that it looks like Open Books will continue without him, he looks forward to seeing how the animal will adapt and grow.
So what will Marshall do when he retires? “I love dogs,” he says. “I grew up with dogs.” He hasn’t owned a dog in almost a decade, so he’s looking forward to volunteering at PAWS, to “go and play with dogs a couple hours every week.” Also, the experience of owning a bookshop is surprisingly not conducive to a rich reading life and so “I would love to read. I look forward to being able to read for two hours straight.” He’s “also hoping to write, and to see if I can.”
When I point out that Marshall is a published poet, so he’s already proven that he can write, he demurs. “Yeah, but you’re not a writer until you write. Writing happens or it doesn’t. You can’t point to something you did years ago and claim you’re still a writer.” With the luxury of time, and without all the conversation of the store thrumming around him every day, he looks forward to the silence of a white page, and learning how to write poetry again.