Once upon a time in Kingston, Kitsap County, a little girl fell in love with books. Annie Carl was born with a rare spinal birth defect called a lipomyelomeningocele — a fatty deposit at the base of her spine a little bigger than a pea. It’s a condition that affects only one in 4,000 children, and in those predigital days, Carl’s medical file at Seattle Children’s hospital took up “like an entire bookcase,” she says, laughing. Carl had her first spinal surgery at 2 years old, and a series of others over the next dozen years found her alternating between crutches and wheelchairs for most of her school days.
Books were a welcome diversion. Carl loved Peter S. Beagle’s “The Last Unicorn,” “The Hobbit,” the “Animorphs” series, and — most especially — Michael Ende’s novel “The Neverending Story,” about a bullied boy who finds himself drawn through a book into a seductive magical realm called Fantastica. To describe Carl as “bookish” would be an understatement: She wanted to devote her life to books.
When she was 14, Carl started visiting downtown Kingston used-book store Mr. B’s Bookery with one goal in mind: “I went in once a week and asked them to hire me.” A year later, they finally acquiesced, bringing her on at six hours a week. Carl always kept books close: She published a books column in the North Kitsap Herald, and worked at Third Place Books for four years. When she finally decided to open her own small bookstore in downtown Bothell, Carl didn’t have to think twice about what to name it.
This month marks a double anniversary for The Neverending Bookshop. It’s been four years since the store first opened, and one year since Carl moved it from Bothell to a bright new space in a shopping center in the Edmonds neighborhood of Perrinville, just across the Lynnwood city limits.
Carl loved Bothell’s foot traffic, but the new location offers more than twice the square footage, plenty of room to grow. She likes that her landlord at Perrinville Village aspires to develop the property “into more of a retail hub, like a smaller, funkier version of the Redmond Town Center.” It aligns perfectly with Carl’s goal to make her store a community destination.
The Neverending Bookshop carries a mix of new and used books, and when she made the move Carl decided to focus on her specialties: fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance and children’s books. Carl’s outgoing 3-year-old son Calvin, obviously a bookseller from birth who took up residence in a crib at the Bothell location, now charms customers with his rubber-duck collection a couple of times a week. The picture-book room is an inviting nook for tiny readers with a colorful dragon mural, beanbag chairs, stuffed dragons and a window for parents to check on kids while browsing.
On a late-summer afternoon, Carl recommends books to customers with the passion that only a lifelong reader can deliver. For a 12-year-old girl who has been shopping at The Neverending Bookshop since she was 8 and has developed a taste for manga, Carl recommends Rainbow Rowell’s comic “Pumpkinheads.” A dad looking for space opera leaves the store with the first book in “The Expanse” series and novels by John Scalzi.
October will see a half-dozen authors visit The Neverending Bookshop for events celebrating their new books, along with a Halloween party and a charity fundraiser. Perhaps Carl’s greatest innovation is a series of evenings combining her love of audiobooks with her love of crafting. Every other Saturday night Carl, a frequent knitter who sells her own scarves and cowls at the store, invites anyone in to knit, do beadwork, paint and sew while listening to a few chapters of a novel. Erin Morgenstern’s moody fantasy about a magician’s feud “The Night Circus” and Becky Chambers’ lighthearted space adventure “The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet” were recent unanimous favorites.
It takes time for a destination shop to build up a customer base, and “this year has been really rocky, to be perfectly honest,” Carl admits. The summer was slow, and she’s going to have to reevaluate whether the business plan makes sense at the beginning of next year. But Carl, a cancer survivor who is “10 years in remission and five years cured” from stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma, knows that the most important thing is to believe in yourself and to keep going. “I’m still here because I’m really stubborn,” she says. It’s right there in the name of the shop: Who has time for happily-ever-afters with all these books to read?
“Normalizing people with disabilities is so important,” The Neverending Bookshop owner Annie Carl says. That’s why one of her store’s displays is devoted to fiction that represents disabled characters with empathy. Here are some new and upcoming additions to the section:
Carl recommends the romance novels of Helen Hoang, including “The Kiss Quotient,” “The Bride Test” and the forthcoming “The Heart Principle.” Carl loves that Hoang incorporates characters with Asperger’s and autism into her stories as full participants — not perfunctory sidekicks.
“Get a Life, Chloe Brown,” a romance out in early November from Talia Hibbert, is about a young woman with a chronic gastrointestinal illness who “can’t walk because she is in so much pain.” She falls in love with someone who has never dated anyone with chronic pain, and the book examines how “these two sort of get together and feel each other out — both figuratively and literally.”
Carl says children’s literature is miles ahead of adult literature in terms of disability acceptance. “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus,” by Dusti Bowling, is a middle-grade novel about a talented skateboarder who was born with no arms. Her life is upturned after her family moves to a tiny town in Arizona.
Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s illustrated picture book “Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You” teaches kids to celebrate their differences. “I’m just living my life, and I’m living it a little differently than you, and you’re living it a little differently than the next person and so on and so forth,” Carl explains. “We’re all just people, just trying to get along.”
The Neverending Bookshop, 7530 Olympic View Drive, Unit 105, Edmonds; 425-415-1945, theneverendingbookshop.com