Favorite Things in Life: Bookstores
I took a trip to my favorite bookstore today. I hope you have a favorite bookstore; life is too short to spend it browsing the stacks of mediocre establishments that only stock Haynes manuals, Steele novels, cookbooks, and old comics. You owe it to yourself to find a favorite bookstore near you, even if it has to be an antique store or something.
Mine is across the street from a park, wedged between a high-end vintage clothing store and a curio shop that fills its windows with hundreds of gaudy necklaces, brooches, earrings; all arranged to make a killer Instagram account, if only the owner could be bothered. You could almost miss it if it didn't have a book rack out front populated with books that no one would (or could) miss. All of the fraudulent scholarship and poor taste in Britain seems to have ended up in one place: titles like Subliminal Socialism in The Children's Television Workshop: 1980-1985, Windows ME for Dummies or The Ultimate Guide to Reiki - Vol. 2. Books useful, I suppose, for art projects, or a chuckle, but not much else.
A veil of incense parts as you walk through the door. If you close your eyes, it's easy to imagine the smoke coating the floor like dry ice on a stage. Of course, they stopped burning incense in the late 90s, but the bookshelves still ooze it. The shopkeeper peeks at you from behind a small hatch above a counter; underneath the counter is, of course, a bookshelf, and the wall above the hatch is plastered with dog-eared concert handbills in various fading colors. The counter itself is piled so high with books and papers that it could double as a professor's desk, which it very well could be.
The second thing you notice is the music pulsing throughout every floorboard and bookcase. A slow, pulsating wave that pervades your subconscious, drowning your emotions in a syrup of synthetic sounds. It's drug music, for sure, but not drug music in the flower-happy, "Everything"-begins-with-an-"E"-type of technoball, or the feedback-laden-stoner-sludge-metal variety. This is the "let's-take-our-homemade-instruments-and-herb-to-the-woods-for-a-weekend" flavor of organic beats and drones. Quivering mushrooms caps, overturned. This is the rhythmic reverberations and hull creakings of a wooden cargo hold floating on a dark sea . This is the music that ripples the glass of the display case that holds the rare books. On offer today is the two-volume Around the World on a Bicycle - first edition, published in 1887 and bound in a lovely, dusty military green. No doubt it houses the musty smells and memories of myriad armchair adventurers, and it can find a home in your collection for a mere four-hundred-pounds-sterling.
Bounce upstairs past the science fiction (there's only ever one guy in the science fiction room, but the room is never empty; I think they have a sign-up sheet), politics and sociology, and poetry sections (which I browse for haiku anthologies and works by Derek Walcott), and turn left once you reach the shelf filled with old technical and engineering manuals. The center island in this room is made out of four waist-high bookshelves arranged in pairs back-to-back; like magnets, they repel the bookshelves lining the walls into their places. Oh, don't trip over the stool with the store name carved and lacquered into it; instead, move it around if you need to reach the higher shelves, filled to the ceiling with tomes of military history, natural history, art and architecture, local history, and literature. Two laps around the room and I'm cradling a stack of books spanning multiple and seemingly mutually exclusive interests; an eclectic assortment covering Japanese package design, selective works of Gregory of Nyssa, the history of mechanical timepieces, and a hardback edition of Beowulf. Illustrated, too! I already have a paperback, of course, but this is such a good deal.
The stairs going back down are so narrow that two girls on their way up have to wait at the landing while I teeter down with my unearthed treasures. My stack only just fits on the counter, and the smiling man wraps up the books in discreet brown wax-paper bags, as he always does, meaning that I, again, leave the shop looking like I just bought pornography. I wander back across the street towards the park, on the lookout for a cozy bench that the sun has been warming all day, especially for me.