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November 11, 2010

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan: The Strand in DASH & LILY'S BOOK OF DARES

Posted by jordana
David and Rachel - credit Anna Orchard.jpgIt started with NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, and it continued with NAOMI & ELY'S NO KISS LIST. Now, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan are back at it with DASH & LILY'S BOOK OF DARES, in which Lily leaves a notebook full of challenges for the right guy to pick it up. Today we have a post from Rachel and a post from David, each telling Teenreads about writing the first chapter of DASH & LILY. 

RACHEL COHN writes -- 

Like Dash & Lily, I was a teen drawn to bookstores, and particularly to any books by J.D. Salinger.  You could almost say I grew up in bookstores, with Salinger as a member of the family.

When I was a kid, my father owned a couple of bookstores, in Amherst, Massachusetts, and in Albany, New York.  My parents were divorced, and so when I visited my father, I often spent the workdays with him at the bookstore.  I LOVED having a bookstore as a playground.  I loved shelving books, giving book recommendations, fetching lunch (very important duty!), and most particularly, hiding out in the musty alcoves, wrapped up in a book.  I was allowed to take any book I wanted to read, but the rule was, once I'd read the book, it was then considered used merchandise, and it was my special duty to cross out the price of the book and then write a marked-down price inside the book.  To this day, I still have my beloved copy (I was never able to give it up for sale) of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (which also plays a role in Dash & Lily's Book of Dares), marked down to 60 cents.


While my father was a bookseller, my mother was a book scholar.  She was an English Literature Ph.D. student when I was a teen, with a particular expertise on the short story, and J.D. Salinger.  Franny & Zooey (another book which plays a role in Dash & Lily) was one of my favorite books, and our dinnertime discussions very often revolved around the Glass family, to the extent that sometimes I felt like we were part of the Glass family!  I could often be found browsing the local bookstores in Maryland, searching for Salinger editions.  And, because we lived so close, my mom often let me go to the Library of Congress on weekends to assist with her research.  My special task was finding early Salinger short stories that appeared in magazines.

I was so happy that David set Dash & Lily at the beloved NYC institution, The Strand Bookstore, when he wrote our first chapter.  Sigh.  A bookstore!  (And what a bookstore!  If and when you make it to Manhattan, I highly recommend you make a trip there!)  How happy was I?  And I knew exactly where to place Lily within that store -- in the Salinger section, of course!
It is hard to underestimate the role bookstores played in my youth.  
For much of high school, I was a constant presence at Encore Books in my hometown -- a small chain that stopped existing while I was in college.  I would go there all the time with my friends, at least once a week so I could see which new bestsellers were discounted.  My two best friends and I would sit in the magazine section and read aloud to each other from SASSY Magazine.  Then we'd loop around over and over again, always finding something new.  In retrospect, it was far from a classy place -- this was a strip mall, not a beloved indie.  But I loved it nonetheless.
That said, if Encore Books was home, The Strand was mecca.  Because I had a strange eye condition, I had to go to a special eye doctor in New York City ... and luckily his office was right by the Strand.  Every two or three months, my mom would pull me out of school, and we'd go an hour or two early so we could wander the miles and miles of stacks in the Strand, buying books by the armful.  When I returned to the area after college, my office was a scant five blocks from the Strand -- and I think it's safe to say that I spent at least half my starter salary there and at St. Mark's Place (where the CD stores were).  It seemed natural to pay homage to my Strand trips in my first book, Boy Meets Boy.  And then, when I wanted a place to start Dash & Lily, there wasn't any question where it would be.