Shirley Shreidell, book lover

Shirley Schreidell was a retired high school English teacher who worked in the Detroit school system. She was the first customer at Book Beat when we opened in late August of 1982, and for that we are grateful. Her first request was the book Blue Boy by Jean Giorno, and after I handed one to her, she laughed about it being on the shelf and we became friends.

After that day she became a weekly regular, a person who enjoyed her reading and valued privacy. Shirley lived around the corner, in a small neat one bedroom apartment in Lincoln Towers. She’d often call with classics to order by Balzac, Zola, Trollop, Turgenev and many others. But Shirley was far more wise and worldly than her quite book-life appeared on the surface.

She was a devoted and passionate opera fan, and spent her life savings following Pavarotti in concerts around the world. Her favorite place to visit was the city of Salzburg, Austria, the home of her beloved Mozart. She became known in elite opera circles as the mysterious red-headed woman that handed Pavarotti a bouquet of red roses after every performance, and he acknowledged her in his autobiography.

Shirley had a dense and secretive personal life, meeting and corresponding long-distance with those she met during her travels. One episode included the American writer Harry Mathews whom she met in Paris, and traveled with around Europe.

Shirley’s reading list included the essence of great writing, or as Henry David Thoreau once said, “The treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.” From her presence, conversations, and requests through the years, she helped build and shape the spirit and content of the bookstore.

One day in 2008, I asked Shirley to compile a list of her favorite top ten books. In her own words, “I have so many loves, just Dickens could almost fill the list…. I omit some lengthy choices like Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, (a page-turner!); Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet; Trollop’s He Knew He Was Right, and probably the greatest novel, War and Peace…Whoops! I knew ten would not be enough. How about plays? or short stories? or memoirs? I have loads of loves there, too. Bestest, Shirley

Shirley had a son living in Los Angeles, California, and she would fly out to visit him yearly. In the past few years, Shirley had become physically too frail to travel, and legally blind. She no longer could read or enjoy her operas, but her mind and memories were sharp and intact.

Our friend Sharon Zimmerman befriended Shirley when she worked at Book Beat, and as Shirley aged, Sharon took care of her daily affairs and was closer to her than any living relative. Last year Sharon helped her move into a Jewish Assisted Living apartment. Shirley died today on April 17, 2020 at the age of 96. She was the patron saint of Book Beat and we love her dearly.

I regret not writing down more of Shirley’s comments. She was one of liveliest, worldly and most intelligent women I’ve known — she lived life to the fullest, and beyond that.
Collected here are Shirley’s favorite books, along with her comments on our Bookshop page: Shirley Schreidell’s Top Ten

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11 comments on “Shirley Shreidell, book lover
  1. Shirley was always so warm, interesting, and lovely to me. I loved talking with her and always leaped at the chance to go and drop off books to her when she lived around the corner and I was working a shift at Book Beat! She lived a fascinating, extraordinary life. I’m so grateful to have spent time with her, Thank you, Shirley. I’ll miss you! Xoxoxox. And thank you, Sharon Z. For all your care and kindness xoxoxox— Tiffany D.

  2. Thank you. She loved you and your store. There are no words to describe how much Sharon Zimmerman helped Aunt Shirley.

  3. I loved my aunt Shirley deeply. I will be at her funeral and have a passage to share with all about her love for family and the arts, but your beautiful words meant so much and I’m grateful for your dedication and longevity during Shirley’s life.

  4. I love what you wrote about my Aunt Shirley. There will never be anyone like her. She was by far the smartest person I ever knew in my entire life. She knew I loved to read and was thrilled to send me lists almost four times a year of the books that she had just read. And whenever she couldn’t make it to New York to go to the Metropolitan Opera — she gave the tickets to me. This really is a beautiful tribute.

  5. Thank you so very much for this wonderful tribute to my Aunt Shirley. My three children always looked forward to receiving a special book on their birthdays from their great great Aunt Shirley . They were always hand picked by my aunt with advice from the wonderful Book Beat staff.
    Whenever we visited Detroit from Chicago my Aunt would always bring my three children to the Book Beat to spoil them with a new book. My children are now fully grown but will always have this wonderful memory of their Aunt Shirley and The Book Beat.
    Thank you again for your kind words.

  6. Thanks Michael, I feel we owe so much to your Aunt — she was a mentor to many of us. I talked with her about two or three weeks ago and planned on seeing her as soon as possible… she sounded clear as a bell and lively as ever. I’m so sorry she’s gone.

    • Thank you again Cary.
      Just an FYI.
      My family just ordered from your online list of my Aunt Shirley’s top ten favorite book list as a Tribute to my Aunt’s memory and to also support your store.

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