You know that folding table decorated with a fishnet where authors sign their new work outside Yellow Umbrella Books?
Weather permitting, Yellow Umbrella owner Eric Linder will sit at that table on Nov. 21 signing his own new book, “The Blue in the Eye of the Girl at La Jolla: New and Selected Poems” (Loom Press, 2020). The signing and the sale of a Bob Staake giclée print are a part of the store’s fun 40th anniversary celebration.
Linder grew up in New Jersey and graduated from the University of Evansville in Indiana, where he majored in English. “And I actually went into a profession where it’s appropriate to be an English major,” he said during a telephone interview last week.
He ran a bookstore in Chelmsford for five years then, after a visit to the Cape, thought Chatham would be a better place for his store. He opened Yellow Umbrella on Memorial Day weekend in 1980. He has always had competition on Main Street. First it was Lorania’s which sold books and toys. That store, which morphed into Cabbages & Kings in 1983, closed in 2007. Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore opened in 2005.
But Linder’s idea for his store was that it would be a full-service, literary bookstore. “That’s what we had and have,” he says. He is proud of his literary, contemporary fiction and poetry sections.
“People say poetry doesn’t sell,” he says. “Guess what? If you don’t have it, it doesn’t sell.”
Readers think they can’t understand poetry, he says. But he cites Mary Oliver as a poet whose work is accessible and also, like Emily Dickinson’s work, “seems simple on the outside” but is more complex the deeper you look.
Linder also established a used book section, buying many books from the late book scout Tom Buckley. In particular, Linder likes to keep his used Cape Cod section well-stocked.
“I’ve seen so many Cape Cod books get published and later go out of print,” he says. “If somebody asks for it, there it is.”
Through the years, Linder has promoted hundreds of local authors at signings, in good weather, out at that front table.
“Per square mile, [Cape Cod] has got to be one of the most written about locales in the world,” Linder says. New books about the Cape “never stop coming. There’s always some new aspect, some new angle.” During a typical pre-pandemic summer, Linder would pack in up to six author signings on a weekend. And when Mary Higgins Clark came to sign her books, the line ran right down Main Street.
Now, what about Linder’s poetry? His work has been published in The Quarterly, Harvard Magazine and Light Year: The Annual of Light Verse and Funny Poems. In pre-internet days, he mailed out his poems in batches. Sometimes he heard nothing, and other times he received a pre-printed rejection letter. But how sweet were the times that the poems were accepted.
The poet and critic Donald Hall accepted a couple of poems for Harvard Magazine. One poem had a date as a title, and Hall said he wanted the title changed. “I never worked so hard to figure out two words in my entire life,” Linder says. “I would think about it around the clock. What am I going to title that poem?” Walking through the store one day, the words “Bright Passage” came to mind, and he knew he had hit it.
He quotes the poet Stanley Kunitz in the front of his book but says, “I would never put myself in the same league. He’s one of the best contemporary poets. His work is complex.”
Linder says he would like his own work to be accessible but he also likes to entertain. “There’s a fair amount of humor in my work.” Yet his work doesn’t follow a “cookie cutter” formula. “Every poem won’t have the same tone. I hope people get some laughs out of it as well as appreciating the more serious tone of some of the pieces.” His poems are by turn funny, enigmatic, snarky and bawdy.
Critics have noted that Linder is concise in his use of language and there is not “a lot of extra baggage there. If it only takes three lines, it takes three lines.” His poem “Accident” goes like this:
After the accident
my hand bled
like a limousine.
“Like an unconventional spy he rejects stealth but prefers to lurk openly in order to seize the moment and capture it with his snare of words,” Staake says in a back-cover blurb. Staake, who lives in Chatham, is a best-selling author and a New Yorker cover artist. His beautiful 24-by-48-inch Yellow Umbrella print, which shows a yellow man reading a yellow book under a yellow umbrella, is available as a signed, numbered, limited edition giclée print for $150.
Linder will sign “The Blue in the Eye of the Girl at La Jolla” on Saturday, Nov. 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Yellow Umbrella Books at 501 Main St. For more information call the store at 508-945-0144.