Turnrow lost a good friend and fixture this weekend, our longest and most loyal customer, Billie Ainsworth. She was one of us, here since day one, logging about as many hours each week on the couch up front as a part-time employee. She had a solid knowledge of the inventory as well as the lives and reading habits of the staff. We ordered with her in mind, and she let us know when we were slacking.
She had a sixth sense for when new stock had arrived and would plant herself on the couch and wait for us to unpack the boxes. She combed the displays, could spot a new spine on the shelf. Anything new that fit her taste she would buy. And her tastes were particular.
She enjoyed thrillers and novels of family dysfunction. She required that a book win her attention within three pages and preferred them to hook her with the opening sentence. She didn't suffer overly descriptive prose. She liked plenty of dialogue, short chapters. She steered clear of historical novels, non-fiction, short story collections, books over 500 pages. She didn't cotton to "guy books." We loved the challenge of luring her out of these parameters, convincing her to take books she was reluctant to read but ended up loving, like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Ford County. (We had a little help from John Grisham on that one.)
She eagerly awaited new books by Harlan Coben, Lesley Kagan (who once sent Billie chocolate), and Greg Iles, with whom she is photographed above. She didn't care if a book was signed, but she did enjoy meeting writers, even though she wouldn't admit it. She didn't see what all the fuss was about over deckled edges. She didn't want a sack or a receipt, just the occasional bookmark and always credit on her frequent purchaser account. She wanted to know how many stars a book received on Amazon, but she never trusted the reviewers. She despised a Kindle. Occasionally, if we went too long without bringing in a book she wanted, she would visit the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart, but she would always confess her transgression. Her favorite book was Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler. She stubbornly refused, to the bitter end, to read The Kite Runner.
We keep in mind her husband Tom, a local State Farm agent and one of the most generous men we know. He always brings us the first tomatoes of the season or a mess of greens, a gift for "putting up with Billie Sue," though he knows we needed her as much as she needed us. He always looked on Billie's obsessive book-buying with a kind patience or a shrug and a laugh where so many other husbands would fuss. They met at a William Faulkner reading, which still amazes us as neither could be bothered to read one of his books.
We'll miss you, Billie. We hope you're looking down and laughing before your big stack of new releases, nothing but good ones.