The Big Picture: Annie Philbrick, bookstore owner
"We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. ... instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter and companionship to which we do not even listen. ... When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place. It is a difficult lesson to learn today — to leave one's friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude. ... And yet, once it is done I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before."
— From "Gift from the Sea" by Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1955)
"Gift from the Sea" is the book competing for lap space with Annie Philbrick's spaniel, Charlie (a familiar face to visitors and friends of Bank Square Books in downtown Mystic) in the photo above. Philbrick says she often returns to this book because its message — that we learn to understand ourselves in solitude — has resonated throughout her life.
We inhabit many roles. We are someone's children, someone's parent, someone's spouse. As these relationships evolve, taking time to define and honor a continuity of self is especially important, she says. There is always some task at hand, someone who could use our help. And it is sometimes at the expense of our inner lives that women give so freely, and so much. Solitude can be a well from which we draw to build a life of deep reflection, and purposeful choices, she explains.
Philbrick is something of a renaissance woman. She has owned other small businesses but loved books for as long as she can remember. She tends chickens. As a girl, she learned to ride horses on an island in the Pacific Northwest and returns there every year. She jumps horses for recreation and relishes the way everything in her mind quiets down in the total concentration that jumping requires — a single-minded focus on the animal and the environment. A room in her Stonington home is decorated with covers of New Yorker
magazines — a family tradition of sorts. And she is the driving force behind the numerous author luncheons, signings and themed evenings Bank Square hosts year-round.
Philbrick co-owns the store with Patience Banister. They had both been loyal patrons, and felt strongly about ensuring its continuity when it went up for sale in 2006.
"We bought it because it needed to stay in the community," she says. "The culture of books is really important to the intellect of a [place]. It's hard for a community to revolve around a digital world."
It was also "a lifestyle choice," she says, because no one gets wealthy running an independent shop in a market with big-box and online competitors. But, she adds, you get rich in other ways. You get to talk to people who love books. You get to talk about books with people who love books. You get to figure out "which book someone is looking for when they come in and say, 'The cover is yellow. And it has an island on it,'" she laughs.
She says it's wonderful to be able to preserve a place where people can shed their feelings of disconnect and talk and laugh together, adding that she is often moved by the way people connect with one another at the signings and other events. But she is not surprised:
"When you recommend a book to someone, you're recommending a part of yourself."