Memories of B. Dalton and the Booksigning that Won’t Be

Posted by on Sep 12, 2014 in Blog, clockwork dagger, nostalgia | 8 comments

[In a week, I hold my first booksigning at Changing Hands in nearby Tempe, Arizona. This got me thinking about how I always imagined things would be…]

I grew up in small-town agricultural California. My local bookstore was a B. Dalton in the Kings Mall. My early memories of that store have my head below the level of the counter. It was a place of countless books and dark woods and garish 1970s orange. Tall ladders stretched to storage crannies high above. Craning my head, I felt like Jack looking up the beanstalk. There were treasures up there.

My mom would scold me to not even touch the ladders in passing. “You have to work here to use them,” she said.

Me at age 5

[Me at age 5 with a B. Dalton bag on the far right and new bounty before me.]

On March 6th, 1993 the new Hanford Mall opened. Why do I remember that exact date? I don’t know. It was a major landmark in my 7th grade year. Other kids at school talked excitedly about the new clothes stores and Disc Jockey. My brother couldn’t wait for the arcade. Me, I wanted to see the brand new and larger version of B. Dalton. Due to Hanford’s proximity to Lemoore Naval Air Station, the store carried a larger than normal selection of science fiction and fantasy.

I can’t even say how many hours I spent there. During my brief time in high school (brief, due to the saving grace of an early graduation that allowed me to escape the toxic environment) I would often walk to the mall after school. I was the obsessive-compulsive customer who would place the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books in proper series sequence.

I wanted to publish a fantasy novel of my own. I wistfully stared at the spot where DAVIS would be shelved. The thing is, publishing a fantasy novel involves writing one. I wrote a few pages here and there, character biographies, sketches, maps, but never made a genuine effort. I was too afraid it would be awful. A few times, I saw authors hold signings at my B. Dalton. They set up a table for them right at the front with full visibility of the mall traffic.

I wanted to sit there, proudly, my books stacked on the table before me.

At age eighteen, I was hired as a seasonal employee at B. Dalton. It was my dream job. I quickly found that I was awkward at handling anything on the phone, and working with the cash drawer made me very nervous. But shelving–oh, I could shelve books and work stock for endless hours. One of my happiest days was when I spent my entire shift placing 50% stickers on all the calendars.

A few years later, I married my Navy sailor husband and moved away. The B. Dalton was in danger of closing at one point but Borders stepped in to save the store. It was odd, on a rare visit home, to see all the B. Dalton signing gone.

And then, of course, came the demise of Borders.

My hometown has no bookstore now. The next nearest big city, Visalia, does not even have a bookstore beyond one for college textbooks. To find a Barnes & Noble, a person has to brave traffic and drive 45 minutes to Fresno.

When I walk through the Hanford Mall, I can still see the B. Dalton there, like a ghost. I can see the younger me, so pudgy and wounded by the world, sitting criss-cross with my backpack against my thigh, a fantasy book in my hands. That store enabled me to escape. It helped to keep me alive. All those childhood fantasies of “I’m going to be an author when I grow up and I’m going to hold my signing here…”

Now my book is a reality, and I can’t. Sure, I could hold a signing elsewhere in my hometown, but it’s not the same. A lot of things in Hanford aren’t the same–there are many wonderful new things there in recent years. But there’s no bookstore. No place for kids to visit and stare up the ladders, and wonder at the new books hidden in the heavens above.

Clockwork Dagger


  1. Aww, that made me really sad. I hope Hanford gets another bookstore, sooner rather than later and though it won’t be the same at all, that you’ll be able to have a signing there. If only to be all like ‘See Hanford? I totally made it!’ because you totally have.

    • I sure hope so. The nice thing is that whenever a store does open there, I’ll have books out and I can still do a signing.

  2. A really nice post, and it really hits home. I remember trips to B Dalton’s and crown books, both within biking distance of my home, as a kid. I never worked at either place, but I always loved going there for the same reasons you did. I also fantasized about where “my” books would sit on the shelves someday.

    The first time I lived in a town without any real bookstore (aside from a Christian one and the campus bookstore, which only sold textbooks) was Potsdam, NY in the late 90s. How could a town with four small colleges within a few miles of it not have a proper book store? I discovered Amazon when I lived there. But when I moved back to CA, I discovered how many bookstores had disappeared from towns here too, and it just keeps getting worse and worse. Even Sacramento has just one B and N in a large mall, and it’s becoming an airy, open place, uncluttered by bookshelves. 🙁

    Brick and mortar book stores are so much more than places to buy books, and it’s sad that the only places that seem to be able to support them anymore are large cities or very quirky, very intellectual towns.

    • It is very sad. I loved it when I was a kid and whatever mall we visited, there would be a B. Dalton or a Waldenbooks. Now you have to find the big box store center with a B&N, and yes, even in a large city you might only have a few of those. Plus, they will be on the fancier side of town.

  3. You should hold your book signing at Superior Dairy. The ice cream there is still epic and portions gigantic!

    • Mmm Superiors. I rarely have ice cream, but having a bit of Superiors chocolate chip is part of a visit home. I haven’t eaten at the actual store in like ten years.

  4. Ah, I have similar fond memories of now-gone bookstores (Those ladders were seriously amazing, right?!), but just think how incredible it will be to achieve that first part of your dream this week! Congrats!

    • Thank you! And yes, I think those old ladders had something magical about them.