Each Thursday evening I join Nippy Keene, Wilson Hahn, Nicholas Andraca, and Kitty Parr at Sotty Hoff ’s Pub,
where we spend several glorious hours talking of nothing but books and authors, from nearly impenetrable titles such as
Videll Gaston’s “The Trial of the Edomite,” to classic children’s books such as “The Magic Pocket” and “Mr. Goff Gains a Friend.” This informal literary gathering began quite by accident some years ago. The five of us had met for dinner one evening and our discussion turned to the possibility that the manuscript of Aleron Hart’s superb novel, “Noddy Hall,” had somehow ended up in Sycamore Shadows, where it awaited discovery in a steamer trunk in someone’s attic, probably buried beneath an
ancestor’s Civil War uniform and grandma’s underwear. Because of our passion for discussing such literary mysteries, we began to meet each week, calling ourselves the “Noddy Snoops.”
To paraphrase Rat from “The Wind in the Willows,” there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as messing with and talking about books, especially when you can do it in the company of friends in an early 19th-century pub, comfortably nestled in ancient oak settles as you watch the fire blazing in the hearth, listen to the ring of clinking glasses and the hum of conversation, and enjoy good food and fine tobacco.*
We are not the only such literary gathering in Sycamore Shadows, however. I know of three other groups who meet at least monthly. Yes, they direct their attention toward the bestseller lists, but their disappointing lack of taste takes nothing from their zeal for reading.
From the founding of Castaway Books in 1832, Sycamore Shadows has remained a town that loves its books. Even today, when the average person’s attention span compares unfavorably to that of a chipmunk, if you visit our town you are more likely to see someone sitting on a park bench absorbing a book than staring at their cell phone.
Despite a two-century love affair with books, Sycamore Shadows can boast of only one published author, Nippy Keene, unless you would include Henri Revasser’s “Imaginunchkins” comic strips and periodical articles such as Elmer Flair’s award-winning, “Wine Stains as Indicators of Future Population Growth.” An outsider recently suggested that our town’s love of
reading and books is but another example of our backwardness, that as we ease into our 20th century we will follow the general
trend of humanity, meaning that our education and cultivation will no longer be reflected by the excellence of our bookshelves,
but by the number of our remotes and the square inches of our monitors. Had they stayed in Sycamore Shadows for longer than a weekend, they may have realized their folly, not because we are culturally superior to other towns and places—we are, of course— but because we continue to recognize the danger, usually followed by a quick trip to the bookstore.
*Anyone familiar with Sotty Hoff ’s who happens to read chapter four of Grahame’s delightful book cannot help noticing the striking similarity between Badger’s underground home and our beloved pub.