Remembering Bob Brown

“I’m always happiest when I’m killing things.”  That’s how Bob Brown captioned the accompanying photo when he gave it to me.

I don’t think this self-appraisal of his was completely accurate.  At least, it wasn’t just killing things—fish, to be specific—that made him happy.  Bob adored fishing, yes, and he went on at least two fishing expeditions every year: to Alaska, to the Washington coast, to anywhere he thought he could have fun making a good catch.  Over the years that I worked for Bob, I received many a tasty tuna steak and halibut fillet carved from his trophies.

But he had plenty of other sources of happiness.  A love of books was one big pleasure he and I enjoyed in common, and one you probably share as well.  Among his special areas of interest were science fiction, fantasy, and other imaginative genres, making the ties binding us together that much realer.

I first met Bob sixteen years ago, while I was researching an essay on E. Nesbit.  Eileen Gunn listened impatiently as I bemoaned my problems tracing the lines of influence running between Nesbit and other authors of 19th-century ghost stories.  Then she declared, “You need to talk to Bob Brown!”  She was absolutely right.  When I showed up at his small-but-treasure-filled store, Bob gladdened my ears with everything I wanted to know, plus a few other tidbits of literary history I hadn’t realized were missing.  And I could tell he had a great time doing so. 

Soon after that initial encounter, Bob hired me to work in his store every Thursday, and to fill in for him whenever he left town to go fishing, bookdealing, and exploring local cuisines from Paris to Antarctica.  Though “B. Brown & Assoc.” was in some ways a sort of a hobby he indulged in during his retirement—Bob’s original career was in advertising—it was a hobby he took very seriously.  Wrapping books to be mailed was an intricate, precise, carefully considered process.  The way he priced his stock was thoroughly professional, backed up by shelves of reference books and Bob’s many years of experience.

Through his store, in addition to making his own deep well of knowledge accessible to his customers and the SF community at large, Bob provided a place for us to exchange recommendations and mutually infect one another with our enthusiasm for the field.  And with his generous and unfailing employment of me for one-and-a-half decades, he made it possible for me to pursue and succeed in my writing.  I miss him.  In his memory I wish everyone who ever knew him every kind of happiness there is.

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