Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ye Olde Book Shoppe

I do most of my book shopping online these days, and if I go into a bookstore, it's usually a Barnes & Noble or a Borders.

But I was thinking today about the best bookstore I have ever been in. I was reading an old, beat-up 1880s copy of Plato's Republic - no, not just for enjoyment (though it is a fascinating book), but I needed it for a section I'm writing in the sequel to The Plot to Save Socrates (ok, that's fun, too). But leafing through that faded book got me to thinking about where I'd acquired it. That shop was my favorite book store...

Now, there are lots of contenders. Foyle's in London, science fiction and mystery bookstores up and down the Northeast corridor here in the U.S. where I'm most likely to be at large ...

But my all-time favorite was a second-hand bookstore located just off the Bowdoin College campus in Maine. My wife and I happened upon it years ago. I have no idea if it's still in business, but suspect not.

It wasn't much of a shop, physically. But it had a stock of old and second-hand philosophy and history books to rival the Harvard Library's. Except most of the volumes were not more than a dollar or two, and weren't in the greatest condition. Didn't matter. I don't collect books as art objects. I love them for their words.

We bought so many books in that store - nearly a hundred - that the two store owners started arguing with each other about whether they really wanted to sell us so much of their inventory. One was sure we were just buying up the books to start our own bookstore, even though I assured her (truthfully) that we were not. In the end, we did get the books, with a mix of embarassed smiles and grumbles thrown in at no extra charge.

I stll have every one of those books on the shelves of my home library today. Many date from the 1920s and 30s. A few go back as far as the 1870s. Benjamin Jowett's Works of Plato in four volumes were on my knee, or on the floor near my shoe, as I wrote large parts of The Plot to Save Socrates. (Plato's Republic is in those Jowettt volumes.) That was one of the reasons I included Jowett in the book as a character.

In this world, where so much of what we do and keep is digital, it's nice to think about the magic of that bookstore. I have a pizza place on Allerton Avenue, a deli on White Plains Road, and a shoe repair store on Burke Avenue - all near where I grew up, in the Bronx - that do that for me, too.

But, none, of course, do the same thing as the bookstore near Bowdoin, because I can still hold the books in my hand, smell them, read them, any time I like...

What are the chances that the proprietors of that book shop will be reading this blog post? Next to nil. But on that outside chance - I hope you'll be pleased to know your books are still being given the appreciation they deserve.

You know, my wife and I may indeed open a book store someday - but never to sell those books...
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