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Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores!

By (October 12, 2016) No Comment

footnotesOur book today is a lovely squat little thing from Clarkson Potter publishers: Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores, subtitled “True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers.” In it, writer and illustrator Bob Eckstein visits dozens of bookshops around the world – and hears about a few that no longer exist – always eager to get a sense of the place and its people, both staff and customers, with the aim of capturing some of what makes the local forbiddenplanetbookshop such a special place.

As in most “ain’t books grand” books of this kind, big chain bookstores past or present are beyond the pale, mausoleums of pure evil where no true book-lovers would ever shop or work. Instead, Eckstein is going for the quirky, the offbeat, the kinds of shops with proudly narrow inventories and oh-so-wonderfully arrogant owners. As is practically required by contract in modern books of this kind, London’s bookstore-in-a-barge, Words on Water, has a page of its own.

reading-internationalFortunately, there have been sufficient numbers of successful and semi-successful independent bookshops in the world so that a book like Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores gets plenty of opportunities to rise above cult-of-personality preciousness and touch on chords of true wonder. Eckstein has collected some wonderful places in these pages and commemorated them with some pointed quotes.readers-choice

For instance, from the entry on Reykjavik’s Bokin:

Bokin was Bobby Fischer’s favorite bookstore after his 1972 victory in Iceland over Boris Spassky. The polarizing former World Chess Champion moved to Iceland in March of 2005 where he became a hermit and paranoid in the last years of his life, even having his mail sometimes delivered to the store instead of his Reykjavik apartment. He would spend hours in the back of the store, where he sometimes fell asleep.

Or this, from the Golden Notebook in Woodstock:

Once, a customer came in looking for a book for his daughter. Our children’s buyer, Gaela Pearson, was buy trying to put together a cardboard book display. She told the man, “I would be happy to help you. In fact, I’ll give you 20 percent off your purchase if you help me put together this display.” He said, “No, I don’t need a discount, but I’d be happy to help.” Gaela and the man sat on the floor and assembled the display. The man bought a book and then left. Gaela’s daughter, working in the back of the store, said, “You know who that was? Didn’t you notice his eyes were two different colors? That was David Bowie.”

ptownbooksOr this, where rock star Adam Ant reflects on his time as a customer at London’s storied Hatchards:

My greatest bookstore moment was meeting my idol, Dirk Bogarde, in Hatchards, Piccadilly (where Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth shops after hours and enjoys a royal patent), when he signed his first volume of his autobiography, A Postillion Struck by Lightning. I was head to toe in leather. He looked immaculate, suited and booted, as if he’d just stepped out from behind the desk in Liliana Cavani’s movie The Night Porter. He had the best Windsor-knotted tie I have ever seen.

Practically every bookstore customer or clerk has a personal repertoire of mitchellsstories like these, and it hardly matters that they’re so often the same story (David Bowie, for example, must have traveled the world for a solid decade anonymously helping harried workers assemble cardboard displays). The thing that Eckstein’s lovely little book captures so winningly is the magic of innisfreesuch places just as a general category, the slow, secure spell they cast on their customers. I’ve fallen under that spell for many decades in many places – including quite a few of the places in this book. The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts, City Lights in San Francisco, Kanda-Jimbocho in Tokyo, New York’s Rizzoli Bookstore, the insufferable Shakespeare and Company in Paris, Powell’s in globecornerPortland, the mighty Strand bookstore in New York, … at one time or another, each of these was the perfect bookstore at the perfect moment for me. And of course there’s the group of Boston and Cambridge shops past and present: the Grolier poetry bookstore (only its courtly new owner is mentioned in Eckstein’s book, not its ghastly previous owner), the Harvard Bookstore, Commonwealth Books, and the Brattle gladdayBookshop in downtown Boston, with its outdoor bargain book-carts I love so much. And Eckstein, bless him, includes a few shops that are now gone, once-magical places like St. Mark’s Bookshop, or the old Scribner’s in New York, or Cambridge’s once-hopping Wordsworth Books. Naturally, he could have included hundreds of such now-vanished bookshops, whole lots of them from New York’s old “Book Row” or the side-streets of Boston’s long-lost Scollay Square.

But that would have made for a melancholy book, and Eckstein’s clear intention here is to stress joy. Certainly I was encouraged – on deep doginlotlevels difficult to describe – by the sheer number of new shops he includes in these pages, places from all over the country and all over the world where I have never been, places that, the hoping implication goes, are even now inspiring that same kind of magic feeling in their customers. It’s actor and incurable reader Alec Baldwin who gets the best (because the simplest) quote about that magic in Eckstein’s book: “I love all bookstores. Chains, independents, big, small. Once you walk into a bookstore, time stands still.”

I loved this little book with its embossed awning on the cover. I’m hoping it sells well enough in the kinds of shops its celebrates so that maybe we get a sequel or two.

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Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores!

By (October 12, 2016) No Comment