Wednesday, October 17, 2007

2 hrs like heaven

I spent two hours entirely alone, except for the proprietor and two cats, in a used book shop in Philly, The Book Trader on Fairmount Ave, while my mother took the kids on a tour of the now-defunct penitentiary across the street. The two-story shop is crammed to the ceiling with hardbounds and paperbacks. The floors, too, have small stacks of books you have to push aside to see what’s on the bottom shelves. I spent about an hour in the poetry section, which was surprisingly good and varied, a whole wall overflowing with fat and skinny books, free and formal, collections and anthologies. I picked about eight books, especially glad to find one by S.J. Marks, whom I read in an anthology I bought at the same shop last year.

After assembling the poetry, I told the shop owner how I was having trouble getting into a book. Fiction can disappoint me much more than any non-fiction can. My expectations must be higher. He suggested the classics. I bought Kafka’s complete stories.

Living in a non-English-speaking country, of course I appreciate online bookstores. But the great thing about a real-life bookstore is having the book in your hand, being able to look at every page, compare it with other books, check the size and style of the print, the blurbs, read a passage or two, check out whether the spine is about to split. It’s also great to run into books that you weren’t looking for, or to be led through a short trip of triggers and associations. Even excluding price, I love used bookstores because of the random selection, the scribbled dedications inside the books, the smell, the all-the-time-in-the-world feeling. I found a book signed by poet Susan Stewart but ultimately put it back. I felt I could, because this has happened to me before.

I have been meaning, for example, to read Saul Bellow but can’t remember which book is considered his masterpiece. Having the books in hand, to be honest, didn’t help - there were all kinds of superlative blurbs on the back of each book. So from Augie March, Herzog, Humboldt and Henderson, I finally went with Augie March because of the picture on the cover, a 1933 photo of State Street in Chicago. I also remembered I aimed to read Russell Banks’ Continental Drift, and they had that, but they also had Cloudsplitter , which looked more promising.

I spent $82.37 on 11 books.

5 comments:

S. Thomas Summers said...

Sarah,

You wrote "But the great thing about a real-life bookstore is having the book in your hand, being able to look at every page, compare it with other books, check the size and style of the print, the blurbs, read a passage or two, check out whether the spine is about to split."

Don't forget how good a book can smell. How wonderful to feel the cool page against your cheek. How marvelous to listen to the symphony of turning pages. What a wonderful day you must have had!!!!

I'll see you,

Scott

S. Thomas Summers said...

Hello agaon,

Just started a new blog on a my new web site. I hope you don't mind...the title of your blog inspired the title of mine. I've names it The Lint in My Pocket. If that bothers you in any way, please let me know. I'll be happy to chnage it. Again, please let me know if it bothers you...ok? promise?

It was good to be back in your purse.

Scott

www.freewebs.com/sthomassummers

SarahJane said...

Hi Scott -
yes, the smell. and the feel.
no worries at all about the blog title! i'll be sure to check yours out.
cheers

Valerie Loveland said...

I miss stores like that. The main used bookstore here is a chain, and although it is good for a chain, it just doesn't feel right.

SarahJane said...

I don't think the chains are too bad. The caf├ęs at many Borders and B&Ns are inviting and are a good place to whittle down the stack of books you pick up browsing. But the price of books is really high, I find. I'm sure a bunch of industry insiders and authors would jump out and tell me why they should actually cost more. But when I add up say, $50 at Borders, and know I'll pay less at Amazon, it seems a clear decision. Better are the used book stores where you'll find all kinds of books you wouldn't find at a chain, and where the books have age and character.
The owner of Book Trader let me bring in my big take-out coffee and sip away while I browsed, so it was the best of all worlds.

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