On Wednesday afternoon, I walked into my local Stop & Shop to pick up a few things. I was feeling grumpy for a number of reasons (some legitimate) and plowing through the aisles like I wanted to hunt down and kill someone.
My local Stop & Shop has a large, wide, well stocked book aisle, placed gloriously in the center of the store. Ever since 2009, when I published my first novel, I have walked down this aisle every time I entered the store, hoping to one day spot one of my books on the shelves.
As a result of my especially foul mood, I didn’t spend the usual minute or two staring at the books in this aisle. For the first time in a long time, I walked up the magazine side of the aisle, head down, mind on other things, ignoring the books entirely.
But then I stopped short. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted it. My book. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, on the shelf, flanked by two books that I had read and loved.
I couldn’t believe it. I stared at it from across the aisle with my mouth hanging open.
Days later, I still can’t believe it.
My books can be found in bookstores throughout the country. I find my novels in independent bookstores and big box stores like Barnes & Noble all the time. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has been translated into more than 20 languages and can be found worldwide in more than three dozen countries. Readers send me photos of my books on the shelves in stores as far away as Australia, South Africa and Southeast Asia. They find my books in airports, museums and retailers like Target.
I am very fortunate. If you want a copy of any of my books, they are not too hard to find.
But until Wednesday, I had never seen my book in my local grocery store, and for some reason, this was a big deal to me.
As the author of three novels and a fourth on the way, I have yet to feel like I’ve arrived. Despite the success that I have enjoyed, I continue to feel like an outsider. A rookie. An interloper. I continue to worry that every book will be my last. I fear that readers and publishers will soon discover that I am a fraud. A trickster. Someone who has gotten lucky a few times but lacks the literary chops for a sustained career.
I can’t imagine not feeling like this. Perhaps it’s a good thing.
But seeing my book on the grocery store shelf was something special for me. It’s the place where I see books being sold most often. It’s the place where I stop most frequently to see who is on top. Which books are selling. Which authors are worthy of these prized spots.
To find my book on this shelf was a sliver of validation that I might actually make it as an author someday.
I went back the next day because my bank also happens to be inside the grocery store. After making my deposit, I headed over to the book aisle to enjoy another glimpse of my book in all its glory. Instead, I discovered that the once-glorious book aisle at the center of the store was gone. Just one day after finally finding my book on its shelves, all the books were gone. The shelves were gone. The entire aisle was in rubble.
I turned to an employee and asked, “What happened to all the books?”
“Oh,” she said. “They’re remodeling the whole store. I think they’ll be back in about a month. At the end of aisle 8, I think.”
The end of aisle 8. No longer in the epicenter of the store. No more wide aisle. No more expansive selection.
Just like that, my book and its shelf were gone.
So much for the validation.