September 14th, 2010


Moral Coils

The last few days have been unnecessarily death filled for me. Two days ago, I got the news that Malista had succumbed to leukemia. Today, I found out that an aquaintance beloved by the Houston book reading community suddenly died yesterday.

Malista was a Bronzer. She was one of those late night posters in the early days of the Bronze known as L.O.S.E.R.S. Most nights she'd be there posting. She also lived in Berkeley, and when I lived there, she became part of my social group. She had Thanksgiving dinner at my house, she and I met a few times for dinner, and I sort of thought of her as one of an older sister type. She'd been in Berkeley forever, and she had a million friends and aquaintences all over the world, especially in the literary world. She was a bit of a hippie, but also had a wickedly sharp sense of humor. It took a lot to get her to come to social gatherings, and I was always honored when she chose to come to my house.

I'm ashamed to say that we fell out of touch when I came back to Houston. I don't know why. Probably due to lack of effort on both of our parts. When everyone started to reconnect on facebook, I think we must have missed one another. It certainly wasn't purposeful. Malista was fiercely protective of her privacy, though, so I imagine that it's possible that she was very selective in those she chose to reach out to on facebook. I didn't even know she was sick undil rainbow linked to a facebook support page for her.

When I saw the notice that she had died, I felt a pang of sadness.

David Thompson at Murder By the Book was a shock to me. I was innocently scrolling the daily news at the Houston Press blog when I stumbled upon a post about his passing. David is roughly my age, and while I didn't know him well, I always liked him. My mother has been buying mystery novels at Murder By the Book since she moved to Houston. It's her very favorite bookstore, and part of the reason she loves it so much is the staff. They know their wares really, really well and they know their customers. So if my mom walked in looking for a new book or series, the staff would almost always direct her to something she loves. David had worked at Murder By the Book for 21 years, so obviously, he'd recommended hundreds, if not thousands of books to my mom.

A few years ago, my mom had a reception at her house for Leonard Nimoy. David and his then girlfriend McKenna were there, and I must have spent at least an hour talking to them. A good hunk of the time was spent talking about books, of course. But we also talked about other things. McKenna was in the process of buying the bookstore from the previous owner, and David had just started his own small publishing company. They told me about their appropriately storybook romance that had recently progressed to moving in together. Their description of attempting to merge book collections was endearing, and I could tell that they were really happy together. I think they got married last year.

David had recently merged his press to another small press. He was also the go-to guy for both NPR and The New York Times last year for stories about small independent bookstores buying the UK editions of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest before it came out in the US in May. My mom said that she saw him a few weeks ago, on her last book buying spree, which are quite frequent, and he of course made recommendations for her. I can't remember the last time I was in there, but it certainly wasn't all that long ago. I know that I bought a noir anthology David put together for my sister Olivia for Christmas last year, but I'm sure I've been in there more recently than that.

I have no idea what happened. Yesterday, there was a posting on the bookstore facebook page about David and McKenna co-hosting a murder mystery convention in St. Louis. Today, there was a notice about his death.

When my mom and I exchanged the news this afternoon, we both said we feel the need to just hug the people we love. David was approximately my age. The outpouring of support on the Murder By the Book facebook page is just unbelievable. I can't even begin to imagine what McKenna is going through right now.

I find this sort of notice of death by social media to be both comforting and disconnecting. I wouldn't have known Malista without the internet. We knew each other for three or four years before actually meeting. And I probably wouldn't have known about David's death until my mother or I next went to get mystery books, though I suppose he was a public figure enough in Houston and the mystery book world that perhaps news would have come out sooner.