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ImageWalking into a good bookstore calms my soul. In my nerdy, book-loving opinion, nothing beats the smell of paper and ink (and occasional mustiness), the sounds of murmured conversations, and the feel of the weight of a book as I try to imagine myself reading it. Luckily for me, I live close to Elliott Bay Books in Seattle, one of the finest independent booksellers in the country.

And, in a rare stroke of genius, I’ve managed to orchestrate a monthly family trip there by inventing a book-of-the-month club for my husband and children. Usually it doesn’t take long for me to find a book on our outings, but what I prefer is when a book finds me.

This happened during our last trip to the bookstore. I was well inside the store, past the tables where books are laid about in seductive poses and into the section where the books are lined up in a more dignified manner on the shelves.

And there it was: Everything is its own reward by Paul Madonna. On the cover is an ink-and-watercolor-wash drawing of an ornate San Francisco turret, a snapshot view from an unexpected angle. I could not resist picking it up and found that the book has the same size, heft, and solid hardcover as a really good sketchbook.

I wanted it.

A quick flip through the pages revealed that it was a sketchbook on the inside too, each page covered with detailed architectural renderings and handwritten notes. A finely-polished sketchbook. I stopped looking, cradled it in my arms and brought it home before I let myself have second thoughts.

I managed to find some time to curl up with it later that afternoon and realized that the words on the drawings were not simply notes, but were snippets of conversation, aphorisms, entire flash-fiction stories. Each highly-crafted drawing is coupled with a literary nugget just as compelling as the ink-wash drawings.

Here is one of my favorites:


Image used with permission of author.

Go ahead, try to draw a staircase that nice. You can’t do it. Most of us have a hard time seeing a staircase that nice.

Check this one out:


Image used with permission of author.

In case you can’t read the text, it says, “All my offerings of beauty / are little more than decoration / If through them / my demons are not set free.”

I will be repeating this phrase to myself as I write.

And I am pleased to learn that Paul Madonna has quite a deep body of work. Turns out this book is a narrative compilation of a weekly strip, All Over Coffee, he publishes in the San Francisco Chronicle. AND (hooray for me), this is his second book.

Thanks to Elliott Bay Books, I have new inspiration. No offense, Amazon, but that has never happened to me by clicking a mouse.