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Up Northwest

I drove up to Fayetteville on Monday morning to spend a couple of days with my best friend Lesha, owner of Little Mountain Bindery. I haven’t been up to the north part of the state at all during the first half of this year, but during the last month I’ve been up there three times.

First, we went to Newton county to my family cabin over the fourth of July weekend. The next weekend, Hubby and I drove up to Branson to see Terry Fator in the RFDTV theater. This week I went up to the home of the Razor Pigs to sit in Lesha’s quiet little studio and house, hang out with my “nieces” Miranda and Naomi, and talk about books and life.

I can’t express how much I miss her most of the time. When we both left Little Rock in 1999 to go to MFA programs 2,000 miles apart, I didn’t know what to do with myself without her.

Who would I call when I was angry at a significant other? Who would know exactly what I mean when I say, “You know, I’m really sick of domestic fiction. These days, if you’re going to write a neurotic suburban meditation on dysfunction, you ought to just go ahead and write a memoir. It will sell better”?

She’s read almost every book I love with irrational passion, including the world history Salt. So when I complain about “domestic fiction,” she knows exactly what I’m talking about from her own literary ramblings.

No one in my current set of local friends really shares this level of book geekdom. I have wonderful writer friends all over the country who are but an e-mail away, but it isn’t quite the same as explaining the plot of my slow-moving novel to Lesha over a glass of wine in her kitchen.

I realized on this trip that I’d missed a lot of things in her life — the girls are growing up so wonderful and smart. I also noticed that, somehow, Lesha became an amazing artist during the past few years. I watched her work on book restoration at her bindery most of yesterday afternoon.

She was competent and confident; her hands were so steady. I’ve admired the blank books she’s made for me in the past, and the work on display in her studio (including beautiful paper boxes), but I’d never really spent time watching her restore someone’s beloved text to a new life.

When I arrived at the bindery Monday afternoon, she was carefully painting a leather treatment onto the new covers of ten or so Dickens novels, published around 1900. They belonged to a woman who got them from her father, who treasured them. Lesha and her team matched the marbling on the original covers, restored the bindings, and restamped the spines with gold lettering.

Yesterday, she worked on a bible that needed a new cover. It was obviously routine work for her, but she handled it with a care I rarely see in my own working life. I looked around at the other projects lined up on her work tables. A huge 24 X 12 inch scrapbook lay on the opposite table, where it too, was awaiting a new cover and binding. It was filled with stories about local literacy projects — obviously the accomplishments of someone’s life’s work.

I envied her ability to bring meaning into the everyday during those few hours –that quiet confident magic of reincarnating someone’s treasure. I was struck with how important her work really is. Without people who know how to sew bindings by hand, we will eventually lose the original artifacts of literature. Those Dickens novels will last another hundred years now.

She and I often dream together about ways we could, somehow, manage to live in the same town. But I’d rather have her off up northwest if she’s going to spend her time at the bindery.

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Art Amiss Call for Submissions

Art Amiss, out of Fayetteville, has a cool call for Arkansas Artists up on its website.  Deadline coming up soon for their literature call. You can see it here.

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