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Kirkland's Book Tree wants every book to find its home

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

Nestled in the quaint suburb of Kirkland sits a charming store bursting at the seams with books new and old. Book Tree Kirkland is one of the only remaining bookstores in town, having survived the COVID-19 pandemic.

The store is owned and operated by book lover, writer, and poet Chris Jarmick. "I am the owner, manager, chief bottle washer, buyer, you know," he said with a laugh.

While he can sometimes feel overwhelmed doing everything at the store, Jarmick prides himself on the cozy atmosphere and unique collection he has stocked.

"The atmosphere of the store is very much dedicated to books, as you can tell. There's a few little tchotchkes around, and then we do have art on the wall, which changes every eight weeks, [by] local artists, and you can purchase the art," he said.

"It's more like an old-fashioned bookstore. People from the community [meet here]... use it as a meeting place, a lot of different uses ... Even though it's a medium-sized space, all these shelves are on wheels, so I [can] create this big event space, performing space, when necessary."

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Events and book clubs
Book Tree has become quite a community space for Kirkland. Aside from selling books and tchotchkes, Jarmick also hosts events. "We just started again, but we have some author events and [other] events that are not completely unique but unique enough to this store," he said. "I have a writing workshop once a month [on the] first Saturdays of the month, and then I do several poetry meetings once a month and an open mic, because I myself am a writer and a poet."

Book Tree is excited to welcome readers back into the store for all the fun activities, and is even hosting another author event soon. "Robert Dugoni... is a mystery thriller writer. His... murder mystery thriller series [stars] Tracy Crosswhite, a Seattle homicide detective, and he will be here sometime in August when the next book in the series is released," he said.

The store is a prime hub for avid readers and book clubs, and Jarmick not only stocks titles local clubs are reading but keeps them all on a special shelf for his best customers. During the summer, the store tends to get less foot traffic, but he can always count on book club readers to stop by and share some of their recent titles.

"Oh, during this time of the year, the summer, I am very cognizant of my cash flow, because it's a very slow business time, so I don't bring in a bunch of brand-new books hoping that they'll sell," Jarmick said. "I bring in a few that either I'm interested in reading or I've heard from customers that they're good or I've heard that they're about to read them for their book club, and then I kind of wait to see what's becoming more popular. At other times of the year, I'm actually always reading, reading, reading, reading, so there's other books I'll bring in and just start recommending over and over."

Not only does he welcome readers from some of the many book clubs in Kirkland, but Jarmick also runs his own out of the store. "We have... an in-store book club, and we will read a whole combination: fiction, non-fiction, new, old everything."

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Jarmick's picks
Aside from reading and writing, one of Jarmick's favorite activities is recommending titles to readers looking to try something new. This summer he's found his recommendations keep flying off the shelves.

"The ones that I've been recommending tend to be pretty popular. ...[One] of the more recent books that I've been recommending and have been pretty popular have been... Dictionary of Lost Words, which is a historical book about the founding of the dictionaries... I'm actually all out of that but expecting more copies in the next order that comes in," he said.

"I absolutely adored Cloud Cuckoo Land, which is a big, wacko novel by the author of All the Light You Cannot See, which is a beloved novel... Cloud Cuckoo Land is something completely different from him, although there are some structural similarities... I suggest people don't read too much about the book, just plunge in, get swept away, and don't worry, just trust the author and eventually it's a wonderful journey. His writing is superb, and it's a unique way to tell a story, because it deals with the ancient past, the present, and the future. ...It's not a fantasy or science fiction book, really ...it's just a fascinating way of telling a wonderful story that comes together beautifully in the end... I got goosebumps reading it, so I can't recommend that enough."

While Jarmick adores fiction, the store also carries many nonfiction titles, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. "I always recommend for more curious readers a series of... nonfiction books. A lot of them have to do with race, and even though this is wonderful Kirkland, there is a lot of exploration into, whatever you want to call it, maybe 'white liberal guilt'... a healthy exploration of race in various ways," he said.

"It's a little less intense right now, but over the last couple of years it was very intense, and there's [also] a little bit of Transgender interest, so I do have titles like All Boys Aren't Blue," Jarmick continued.

While he will always stock books on anti-racism, Jarmick admits there are some titles he refuses to provide real estate to on his shelves. "I decided a couple years ago that there are some books, even if they're donated to me, that I will not have on my shelves. If people want to buy them, fine. I will order them for them, give them basically new, but I won't carry them on my shelves if they're too one-sided, if they're too conservative, if they're somebody that drives me nuts — no, not going to happen."

Book Tree is a haven for readers young and old, and one of Jarmick's favorite parts of the store is his children's section, tucked away in a cozy back room full of beanbag chairs and storybooks.

"I'm very proud of the kids' room. It's like its own separate area, so that parents who have smaller kids, they can put the kids in there, let them jump around on the beanbags, or look at the books or read to them if they want to spend time with the kids. But then if they want to get away from the kids, they can say stay here and... browse the rest of the store or talk to me about books or whatever," he said.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Books in need of loving new homes
Since the pandemic, Book Tree has experienced an increase in donations from the community. "A long time ago, pre-COVID, another lifetime ago, if you can remember that, everything was a little bit more pristine. You [now] see some piles of books, some in boxes. I never had this many piles..., but during COVID, a lot of people started cleaning their houses and wanted to donate books... I said, okay, I will make it a mission to find homes for books," Jarmick recalled.

Since 2020, his mission to "find homes for books" has expanded as he learned that many used ones eventually end up in landfills. "If I can't sell them, I will donate them to senior centers, Boys and Girls clubs, prisons, that sort of thing... It got so bad, I even had people strap on backpacks and we walked around ...[and] put books in all the Free Libraries, because... I found out that sometimes places where people donate books are [already] full of books. They will recycle [them, but] not all recycling centers process books — they will sometimes reject them and put them into landfills. So you have decent books that deserve to be read that wind up in the garbage dump and don't even get recycled."

"It sort of was a mission that... was clear to me — that I need to find homes for books. Hopefully I can sell them and keep the store open, but if I can't, I can't. I will donate them, I will make sure they have a chance," Jarmick continued.

So far, his mission to find loving homes for all the books that make their way into Book Tree has been successful, but there are always piles and collections in the store in need of readers.

Jarmick hopes that as we move further from the pandemic, more readers will feel safe coming back to the store and enjoy the cozy environment. And, of course, he can't wait to recommend readers their next favorite tome.

Book Tree Kirkland is located at 609 Market St. and online at http://www.booktreekirkland.com/.