Norman Conquest Slept Here

photo by  Dave Matlow
photo by  Dave Matlow

I grew up in this little pink house at the end of Main St. in Westport, Connecticut.
When my parents arrived in town  (circa 1961) it wasn’t pink and wasn’t called Remarkable.  It was Pitkin’s Map & Bookstore. The owner, Walter B. Pitkin, Jr., was the author of Life Begins at 40.


I think he got it wrong… my life began at 14.
By the time I hit 7th grade the bookstore had become the Remarkable Book Shop, sported a hot new color, and quickly became a magnet for the town’s lit crowd and celebs. It was run by Esther Kramer, wife of Sidney B. Kramer, the founder of Bantam Books.
The place wasn’t just remarkable for being an early feminist center, but its stock emphasized the avant-garde.   It became my second home. I’d cut classes and hang out in the back, reading in one of the overstuffed armchairs. It was cozy as a den. The manager, Barbara Stern, knew I was playing hooky, but encouraged me to hide out and feed my mind.
Inside Remarkable I discovered Ginsberg’s Howl , Henry Miller, French lit, and Surrealism. The more I read, the more determined I became. I was going to be a writer, too!
As a sophomore at Staples High I began publishing anti-war poems, and edited a little mag called Pulse  Imagine how thrilled I was when Barbara and Esther offered me a full window display. (Support your local hippie.)
The display included my self-published pamphlets & anti-war rants (complete with 4-letter words), copies of Pulse, an American flag, and a  poster-sized photo of yours truly.
It was instant notoriety in a small town, and it pissed off supporters of the war—some of whom sent hate-mail to the bookstore and angry letters to the newspaper.
Years later, Remarkable refused to carry Tricky Dick’s autobiography unless he signed a pledge to donate the proceeds to charity. (He didn’t, natch.)
Esther and Barbara were pioneers whose courage and dedication inspired me to open my own bookstore—Not Guilty!—on Martha’s Vineyard in 1968.
Esther Kramer passed away this year at the age of 93, and Remarkable—like so many other independents—has sadly disappeared.
I know how lucky I was to have been at the right place at the right time.
Today, young people can still discover art & lit at Barnes & Noble, but where they’ll find encouragement and the spirit of rebellion is anybody’s guess.