Diane’s Books: Sparking the Imagination, the Ultimate Gift
By Michelle Moskowitz
“Imagination is more important than information.”— Albert Einstein
“Fiction is the ground beneath our feet.”— Edith Wharton
’Tis the season for family gatherings, holiday gift giving and perhaps, storytelling by the fire, and so this reporter sat down with Diane Garrett, proprietor of one of Greenwich’s premiere and long-standing local businesses, Diane’s Books, to get her take on the impact that books have on our lives.
Speaking with Garrett, one is instantly swept up in her passion for books and for the gem of a family bookstore she founded 26 years ago at 8A Grigg Street, right off Greenwich Avenue.
Dressed in a chic black skirt and blazer adorned with a colossal, cheery red ribbon and wearing lipstick to match, Garrett appears ageless and effervescent when showcasing the more than 7,600 titles packed in the quaint, many-roomed shop.
What resonates most deeply with Garrett is that, after almost three decades in business, her greatest success has been witnessing the immense effect that books have had on generations of readers.
“We truly care about raising readers, and we want everyone to fall into reading,” said Garrett. “Today more than ever, it’s so important for us all to escape into a great story and embrace the journey that a book provides.”
Garrett, originally from Canada, came to Greenwich in 1982 with her three children when her husband was transferred for his company.
Garrett quickly embraced the community, and having received a master’s degree in library science from the University of Toronto, she knew that she wanted to work with books in some way, shape or form.
Her true calling manifested itself in creating the ultimate literary destination—a shop where people of all ages can experience the immense joy and wonderment particular to reading; all these years later, Diane’s Books is going stronger than ever.
Even though many people discouraged her from opening a bookstore in town (there were seven at that time), Garrett felt strongly that a dedicated family bookstore, with a handpicked selection of exceptional titles, was a necessary addition to this highly educated community.
“You can’t raise lifelong readers if the whole family doesn’t read,” Garrett said. “I knew that having a shop with something for everyone was key.”
Asked what is the key element in fostering a true love for reading in a child, her reply was instant and emphatic.
“Read out loud every single day to your children, no matter what their age, even up until college. Cuddle up together, read to them and let them get lost in their imagination,” said Garrett.
In fact, Garrett reads a story (or two) at each of her staff meetings, which she says is a tradition that her team values and looks forward to.
One of her current read-aloud favorites is “E Is for Ethics: How to Talk to Kids About Morals, Values, and What Matters Most,” by Ian James Corlett.
As many parents struggle with the pervasiveness of technology and ubiquitous digital distractions, Garrett professed that it’s critical to expose kids to all types of books and genres—everything from joke books to science-fiction to biographies in order to find out what ignites them to “fall into reading” and get them excited.
Perhaps her favorite genre for kids is that of fairy tales; she fondly talked about one of her grandchildren, aged 15, requesting that Garrett re-read out loud some of her most treasured tales.
“It’s the wonder, the magic, the imagination of a good story that sparks something in all of us,” adds Garrett.
Ultimately, Garrett attributes the store’s long-standing success to her underlying business principles, which she refers to as “the 4 C’s”: compassion, community service, curiosity and communication.
In 2015 the shop received the Malcolm S. Pray Excellence in Business Award from the Greenwich Chamber of Commerce.
Garrett praised her hard-working team, comprised of 15 part-time staff members, whom she refers to as her “Dazzling Divas.”
Each staff member “runs a piece of real estate” (or genre in the store) and has fostered an expertise in that particular genre.
“Everyone works part-time so that staff members can put family-first, and then, when they come to work they are fresh and ready to focus, focus, focus,” said Garrett.
Perhaps it’s this collective expertise that enables the staff to diligently match their readers with enticing book selections that makes Diane’s unique and keeps customers coming back.
During the interview, a man came into the store to pick up his mother’s recent batch of book selections, hand-picked by Diane, as the mother was recovering from an illness.
Among Garrett’s personal favorites are “The Painter of Battles,” by Arturo Perez-Reverte and “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv.
During the holiday season, Diane’s Books runs its annual outreach program, called the Angel Tree Program, in which more than 400 beautifully wrapped books are donated to local children in need, with the goal of changing lives one book at a time.
In addition to quarterly newsletters consisting of book descriptions on newly released, vetted titles, Garrett offers consultations for book groups.
Diane’s Books also has its own Book of the Month program to foster a love of reading with friends and family.
But one of the shop’s most notable offerings is its popular Red Flyer Gift Wagons, a long-standing tradition that includes gifting little wagons filled to the brim with hand-selected books for babies, children and adults—perfect for the holidays, but also popular for birthdays or any special occasion.
These wagons are purchased and distributed across the globe and can be theme-based or tailored to a particular interest.
For this holiday season, Garrett offers a wealth of enthralling picks for families and children alike, such as “Beautiful,” written by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, embracing and celebrating the diversity in all girls, and “The Way Things Work Now,” revised and updated by David Macaulay, an entertaining reference book for curious readers of all ages, including the latest information about the technology we use today.
For adults, Garrett suggests “A Life Well Played,” by Arnold Palmer, honoring one of the greatest and most beloved players in professional golf history and “The Perfect Horse,” by Elizabeth Letts, a fascinating World War II story about a covert mission to kidnap endangered animals and bring them to safety.
Garrett says she has no less than 100 books stacked on her nightstand at any given time and looks forward to reading each and every single one of them.
Resting beside Garrett during this reporter’s interview was her Diane’s Books tote bag, overflowing with newly released novels, newspaper and magazine clippings, scribbled notes and her journal, in which she writes daily.
When asked if one should stop reading a book that is difficult to get into quickly, she replied, “If you can’t hear the music of the story at that time, you may have too much on your mind or perhaps are too tired. Wait for another moment and just give it another chance,” said Garrett.
As Diane’s tagline reads, “Books fall open and you fall in delighted where you’ve never been.”
Store hours are Mon. through Sat. 9-5 p.m. and 12-5 p.m. on Sundays throughout the month of December.
For more holiday gift ideas and information on Diane’s Books, visit dianesbooks.com or call (203) 869-1515.