One of the disadvantages of living in my new location is there are no used booksellers nearby. I’m beginning to miss the convenience of my snooty bookstore even though they treated my trade-ins as if they were used oil rags. At least I had access to cheaper books. And I miss the musty old place, its dusty rooms piled from floor to ceiling with manuscripts, their covers sometimes torn or soiled.
My new abode houses a small library and I admit the other day I was lucky to find a new edition of Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki which I pounced on at once. Still, the library in my retirement center has no ambience. The room is light and airy, like the recovery room of a hospital, and, as it is run by retired librarians, it is well organized. All I need do to find a book I want is to obey the dewey decimal system. No more tiptoeing past teetering stacks of ancient tomes that reek with the musty odors of well-kept secrets.
Of course no one can guess how long neighborhood bookstores will exist. Some predict an early demise. Some say no. I only know that I’d be inclined to weep for future generations who order books from Amazon. They will never experience the thrill of finding some forgotten volume that, if opened and the pages turned, will reveal a treasure. What is a book lover, after all, if not a hunter at heart?
Bruce Handy writes about a Paris bookstore that for no other explanation than a stroke of luck has survived since before World War II, closing only during the Nazi invasion: Shakespeare and Company. (“In a Bookstore in Paris,” by Bruce Handy, Vanity Fair, November 2014, pgs. 194-207.) Owned by an eccentric, George Whitman, after the war his shop became a meeting place for members of the lost generation, the beat generation and decades of budding writers who were allowed to sleep in the store if they needed shelter and who were lovingly known as “Tumbleweeds.” The only one ever ejected was a young man who refused to drink the wine from an empty sardine can. Whitman didn’t know that young man wasn’t a Tumbleweed, however. He was Johnny Depp, following the path beaten by generations of entertainment celebrities before him. Of course, the line of famous writers continued as well, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, Annais Nin, William Styron and George Plimpton, among them.
As the neighborhood gentrified, developers followed, too, offering to buy the place. They were always refused, no matter the amount offered. Whitman’s shop was his castle and he filled its 4 stories with books and books and more books, until nothing ruled but chaos. And yet, within the apparent disarray a kind of order did exist, one which even the stodgiest librarian could respect. When his daughter suggested the Russian section be moved to another corner, her father, though enfeebled with age, strenuously objected. “No! The Russian section has to be here because this nook is so romantic. And then you have gaps between the shelves so you can see and fall in love with a customer on the other side while you are reading Dostoyevsky.”(Ibid pg 2006)
Now who wouldn’t cherish a bookstore like Shakespeare and Company? Amazon, you’ll never be able to compete with love.
(First published 12/30/14)
Courtesy of www.terragalleria.com