Thirteen Years of Black Orchid

It is stretching things a great deal to view tonight’s Anniversary Party in bar mitzvah-like terms. But if the Jewish rite is about moving into adulthood – or new territory – then perhaps the Black Orchid Bookshop’s party can be compared in terms of the magnitude of change. Because this is the last public party, and in a few years the shop won’t exist as a standalone bookstore.

Although a lot of people are probably going to make it out to E. 81st street tonight, many won’t – so today is Black Orchid Day, and anyone with memories, anecdotes and general thoughts on Raven Award winners Bonnie Claeson & Joe Guglielmelli and the bookstore are invited to post in the backblog or drop me a line so I can post them throughout the morning and early afternoon. This time, I’ll start with mine.

I’m fairly certain the first time I met Bonnie & Joe was at the late, lamented New York is Book Country in 2000, but it wasn’t until the following year, when I began my one-day-a-week shifts at Partners & Crime, that I really began to get to know the both of them. Bonnie first and more naturally, because her personality invites you to start going on about what books you love and what’s happening in your life. I can’t remember how many times I’d come in, sit at the back of the shop and start gabbing about the mystery community, favorite writers and of course, the books. Joe took a little while longer as I got used to his sharp commentary and no-bullshit demeanor and I found myself liking this a great deal. He can defend certain books or be critical of others but there is no ambivalence about the genre.

Through them I met some of their Baker Street Irregulars: Marilyn Furman, perhaps their longest standing and most regular customer; Russell Atwood, later on taking the bulk of the day shifts, Margery Flax before she became MWA’s Office Manager; and Jonathan Matthews, who amazed me at how many New York trips he could fit into his PhD in math across the Atlantic. I wish he could come tonight, and if he could, he would.

The author signings could be intimate or raucous; the parties, especially during Edgar Week, were always a major highlight; no matter what, Bonnie & Joe were the lynchpins, their enthusiasm and generosity infecting everyone else in the best possible way. How many emerging crime writers have they championed? Too many to count. How many books have they recommended that changed people’s lives, or at least their reading habits? Again, too many. I still remember the MWA board meeting party where they announced that Bonnie & Joe would be receiving the Raven Award at the next Edgars: the roar of the crowd – which wasn’t all that big – was almost deafening. And the speech they gave a few months later upon acceptance had the entire crowd in a mist of emotion at seeing their palpable reaction.

Tonight’s party will be great, but there will be guilt. I didn’t buy enough books. I didn’t go often enough, especially lately. The effect of their upcoming absence can’t really be calculated, but it will be great. But tonight, it’s all about raising many glasses to the past 13 years. Bonnie and Joe are truly two of a kind.