It was standing room only at Mudhouse Coffee in the Square Saturday, July 17, for an “Evening of Poetry and Prose” with poet Virginia LeBaron, author of Cardinal Marks, and novelist Anna Caritj, author of Leda and the Swan. The event was sponsored by Bluebird Books, the mobile bookstore owned and operated by Flannery Buchanan out of a vintage trailer that offers a “pop-up bookstore” at the Mudhouse on weekends as well as travelling to many other venues in Crozet and the surrounding area (www.bluebirdbookstop.com).
LeBaron is a member of the University of Virginia nursing faculty whose poetry offered a nurse’s perspective on the pandemic. Cardinal Marks—the title of her poetry collection that came out in February—are buoys and other sea marks that indicate the position of hazards in the water and indicate the compass direction of safety. Thus, her book is divided into sections titled North, South, East, and West. Her moving, luminous poetry often deals with illness and death. In “Bound to Earth,” LeBaron reflects on the first time she saw someone die. “These poems explore the territory between guilt and forgiveness, childhood and adulthood, and perhaps especially between life to death,” commented Lisa Russ Spaar, director of creative writing at U.Va.
Caritj, who earned a B.A. at Virginia and an MFA at Hollins University, read from her campus mystery Leda and the Swan, published in May. Her reading featured smart dialogue and dark descriptions as Leda encounters her crush, Ian, in a Cabell Hall practice room. We learn that Leda cannot remember what happened after the wild Halloween party she attended with him, and wonders why Charlotte, who was dressed as a swan at the party, has disappeared. This contemporary page-turner deals with issues such as sexual assault, love, and loneliness. The readings were followed by a question-and-answer session and book signings.
This was the first author event for Flannery Buchanan, a former elementary librarian who opened Bluebird Books in May 2020. A devoted patron of the former Over the Moon Bookstore in Piedmont Place—which closed during the pandemic—Buchanan adapted to pandemic conditions while at the same time fulfilling a longstanding family dream of running an independent bookstore. Using her savings to completely renovate a 1966-vintage Banner trailer that can be hauled behind her SUV with low overhead, she began taking books to people and setting up outside.
“You can find us at local wineries, school fundraisers, farmers markets, and more. In August we will visit The Vue apartments.” Her first “pop-up bookstore” on the stage at the Mudhouse in November 2020 was such a success that she stayed. Now, she offers her curated collection of books for all ages and in all genres at the Mudhouse every Thursday-Saturday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the blessings of Mudhouse area manager Lindsey Simpkins. “Flannery had a creative idea with an important mission,” Lindsey explained. “She has touched the community in a way it was desperately needing.”
“Lindsey has been incredibly supportive,” noted Buchanan. During the pandemic last year, they collaborated to offer an appointment-based story time and “kids’ happy hour” for all ages on Wednesdays from 3 to 5 p.m. Buchanan would read aloud for 30 minutes to four children at a time, while the Mudhouse offered hot chocolate and $1-off chocolate chip cookies. “Anne [DeVault, Over the Moon owner] taught me you have to have coffee in your bookstore,” Buchanan observed. “I love my customers, the human connection,” she continued. “People stay in touch even from a long distance.” The business has finally begun to turn a profit now that the trailer renovation is paid for. “My biggest challenge is publicity, how to reach people that are not on social media,” she says. And she does dream of a brick and mortar store that would eliminate some of the hauling of heavy book boxes.
The next Bluebird author event will partner with Writer House to host Elle Cosimano, author of Finley Donovan is Killing It: a Mystery (2021) on Saturday, August 28, at 5 p.m. Known for her young adult novels such as Nearly Gone and Seasons of the Storm, “Cosimano makes her adult debut with this off-the-wall series starter, which is part comedy of errors, part genuine thriller” (ALA Booklist). “Finlay Donovan is “so endearing it’s easy to surrender.” (New York Times Book Review). The sequel, Finley Donovan Knocks ’Em Dead, comes out next year. “Eventually I plan to remove the Mudhouse pop-up, but I still hope to do author events every month or so.”
The mother of four avid readers ages 7 to 15, who help to curate her children’s and YA collections, Buchanan also offers a custom monthly book subscription called “the nest,” because you can find your next can’t-put-down read while staying home in yours. Just tell her the age, gender, and reading tastes of your recipient, and she will select and send one book per month. She also delivers locally. “Think of me as your personal librarian,” she explained. Just look for the Subscriptions tab on her Bluebird Bookstop website, bluebirdbookstop.com.