An Interview with BTC’s local legend, Rona Brinlee

We are all feeling it - the unrelenting weight of the world as we wade through COVID-19, confront social injustice, debate the state of the world and brace for the holidays (reminder to breathe...). But what’s cool about the mind is that it is ever-present. We are in control of the information we feed our imagination. Now more than ever, books have been a refreshing escape - a portal into our own intimate, parallel universes where we can challenge our perceptions or stoke our nostalgia. Rona Brinlee - owner of The BookMark and written word connoisseur - points out:

“Reading is such a personal activity, and what will help one person may not be appealing to another.  Some people want to read about the science or history of pandemics, while others want to escape with a good novel or mystery.  The trick is to match the right book with each person.  That’s our challenge and our skill.  We love it!” 

In this article, we dive into the magnificent mind of Rona Brinlee. Rona has been the owner of The BookMark for the past 25 years and a renowned member of this community accredited for her thoughtful insights, book recommendations, and author-oriented events that engage and uplift the vibrant Beaches Town Center. Get to know Rona and The BookMark below. 

“You will never be bored or lonely 

if you have a good book to read.”

- Rona Brinlee

  • Where did you grow up? How long have you lived in the Jax Beach area?

I grew up in Baltimore and went to college and graduate school in New York City (Barnard for undergraduate, Columbia University for PhD).  I moved to Jacksonville in 1980 to start the Anthropology Department at UNF.  We moved to the beaches in 1998 to be closer to the store.

Rona Brinlee, 

  • Have you always been into books? Was there a childhood love of reading there or did an infatuation with the written word develop over time? 

I confess I was not a reader as a child.  In fact, as I often tell parents of reluctant readers, I was (and still am) a very slow reader, so I didn’t enjoy it as a kid.  And now I own a bookstore.  So, the good news is, everyone finds reading at a different time in their life.

  • What was your favorite book growing up and why do you think you were so drawn to it? What is your favorite book now? Do you think our overall environment affects what we read & engage with?

My first favorite book was Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans, because this is the first book I learned to read.  I started by memorizing the words and when to turn the pages.  I can still recite much of it today.  In the fourth grade, I fell in love with The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster.  We had a substitute for much of that year who read us the entire book. I’d always assumed that’s why I like it so much.  Everyone loves to be read to.  So, I reread it as an adult, and it is fabulous still!  A classic now, it still sells really well as each generation discovers its magic.

My favorite book now changes weekly if not daily as I read something new or upcoming.  It’s such a joy to have access to so many wonderful books.  I always say, you will never be bored or lonely if you have a good book to read.

  • Happy 30th Anniversary to the BookMark! Elaborate on the impact the BookMark makes on our community. What do you most cherish about owning a book store? Has the BookMark always been a dream of yours? 

Thanks for your good wishes.  I like to think The BookMark is an integral part of the community as a place to gather (in better times, of course), to share ideas, and to find the next great book to read.  We contribute to area organizations and provide a literary hub.  Customers often comment on how important we are, and visitors and newcomers are happy to find an independent bookstore.  Some even claim it played a part in their decision to move to this area.  You’d have to ask members of the community for how they feel to get a good answer.

We have watched families form, children grow up, and customers grow old.  I feel like part of so many families that have taken me into their lives.  It’s a privilege.  Perhaps what I cherish most is finding just the right book for someone, knowing how much they’re going to enjoy it.  And then there’s that wonderment in a child’s eyes when they start reading.  It’s truly magical.

I grew up in a retail environment (my father owned a jewelry store for 50 years), and I swore I’d never go into retail.  I always imagine he’s laughing at me from somewhere.

  • How have you modified your business during this trying time? Any book recommendations to inspire a path forward? 

Like so many small businesses and independent bookstores nationwide, we are doing everything we can to stay connected to our customers and continue to serve them while staying safe.  We were closed for 2+ months, during which time I took all calls on my cell phone, taking orders, delivering books, shipping books, and making books available for “curbside” pick up.  Now that we’re open for browsing, we continue those services but also allow people in the store.  

We are committed to keeping our staff and customers safe and healthy. In addition to requiring (and providing) masks, offering hand sanitizer, facilitating social distancing (moving/removing furniture), hanging plexiglass guards by the front cash wrap/counter, and cleaning regularly, we have now installed a new Air Purification System that includes "HEPA filtration, ionization, and a space certified technology to destroy up to 99% of contaminants in the air and on surfaces." 

The BookMark has hosted authors regularly for 30 years.  These wonderful events that draw fans are not possible at the moment.  We’ve shifted to virtual events with authors via Crowdcast and Zoom.  That way, we can still interact with our favorite authors and often provide signed copies of their books.  Story Time is now virtual, and I’ve been giving presentations virtually as well.  While it’s not the same as in person events, it’s a good alternative under the circumstances.

Reading is such a personal activity, and what will help one person may not be appealing to another.  Some people want to read about the science or history of pandemics, while others want to escape with a good novel or mystery.  The trick is to match the right book with each person.  That’s our challenge and our skill.  We love it!

When was the last time you picked up a binge-worthy series? And no, I’m not talking TV like The Office on Netflix. Let a good book be the place where curling up with a warm cup of tea or a yummy glass of wine is simply...enough. Let Rona and her crew at The BookMark be your guide. 

Website

http://www.bookmarkbeach.com/

Email

bkmark@bellsouth.net

Phone

904-241-9026

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Article by Carlie Christenson - September 12, 2020 / @carliehannah

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