Craig Jones in The Reader’s Loft, DePere, Wisconsin
My first story about Craig begins in 2005, when Reader’s Loft was in its old location and I was promoting my first book. I was giving a reading at the store, complete with a reception and snacks— shrimp on skewers!— I mean, not just snacks, but fancy snacks.
The story I’d chosen to read was maybe not the best way to sell my book: a short, sad, how-to guide about anorexia, including tips on how to vomit.
I finished reading. The crowd sat in respectful, puzzled silence.
Then, Craig announced it was time for the reception: “All right! Let’s all go and stuff ourselves, and then we’ll all throw up!”
Darkly funny, irreverent, the consummate showman: Craig Jones was more than a local bookseller. For me, it was love at first bite.
My second story about Craig takes place at my workplace, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.
We were far from the stacks of books and polished bookcases that I, like my children, sometimes assumed was Craig’s actual home. (I mean, didn’t he sleep on a vintage couch beneath a purring blanket of cats?)
Because for so many of us, books are home: a place of wonder, imagination, comfort, secrets, nightmares, mistakes— agonizing departures and tearful reunions.
Walking into the Reader’s Loft and seeing Craig was always, always like coming home.
On this day, for a campus panel on feminism, Craig and I discussed our actual homes—the ones with mortgages— and the people in them. I learned about Craig’s deep love of his wife, how long distances and harrowing commutes couldn’t keep them apart. How he nurtured his sons when they were babies. What he thought about masculinity, fatherhood, husband-hood, power, generosity.
Was he wearing a t-shirt with the word “Feminist” on it? I think he was. Let’s say he was.
As always, I said goodbye to Craig that afternoon feeling enriched, empowered, edified. Welcomed in, yet nudged outward.
My third story about Craig may be your story of Craig. You’re a reader. You’re a writer. You’re a lover of leather bindings and advanced reading copies and special orders and hand-sewn journals. You’re looking for something new to split your brain wide open. You’re looking for something old to remind you that life has always teemed with villains and heroes, heroines and quests, chest-pounding promises, heart-stopping twists. You’re looking for Garfield to wallop Odie. You’re looking for a first edition of Beloved. You’re looking for that one book you heard about on NPR that had the word “night” in the title. You’re looking for the way to fall into a thrall that suspends your afternoon.
You’re looking for Craig Jones to guide you. And when you’ve finished reading, you’re looking for Craig Jones to talk with about the best part, the worst line, the stupid kiss, the genius paragraph— because Craig Jones helped you to see it clearly, because Craig Jones allowed you to dwell inside the magic of stories for as long as you had time.
My last story about Craig Jones brings us full circle: A reading at “the new” Reader’s Loft, in March 2014. I was promoting my dark, irreverent second book with a reading and reception.
For the record, there were no skewered shrimp— which, given my writing, I totally get. There was Amy and Kathy and Craig and a wonderful crowd of people—some who had never been to Reader’s Loft, and who now are lifelong customers.
Before the event, I met up with Craig. Would he help me by reading some lines from a story?
The story was about an exhibit on Coney Island in 1904. I needed the voice of a carnival barker.
As you can imagine, Craig Jones was the perfect literary carnival barker. (I mean, of course.)
To this day, I can hear nothing but his voice in that story, one of my favorite stories to write, whenever I read it again. Every single time.
Craig’s voice in my words is an agonizing departure. It’s a tearful reunion. A chest-pounding promise. A heart-stopping twist.
And I am so lucky. I will always have Craig Jones’s voice in a book, in a home, in my favorite place to be—beckoning us to keep reading and writing and talking about the things we hold most dear.
Lucky, too, because when we read books, time stops. In the flip of old pages, in the crack of new covers, we can hear Craig calling— always, forever, any time we wish: Come inside, Ladies and Gentlemen! Take a look! Don’t delay! Step right up!
Craig Jones died on Feb 12, 2015 at age 65. He was “the face of the Reader’s Loft” in DePere for more than two decades. He will be deeply missed. Read more about Craig at Shelf Awareness. Watch him talk book selling and books on CSPAN here.