A confession: books were losing their appeal to me. Not their contents, but in terms of the physical artefact. I’ve been working with books in one way or another for around 8 years now, so they were becoming… mundane. Nothing special. This is surprising, because when I first started out, I loved books greatly. I adored their smell. I loved the sense of being surrounded by thousands of ideas by thousands of writers, no matter how niche their interests.
Somewhere over the years, that affection disappeared. Has that happened to anyone else?
Writing books, perhaps, contributed to that a little – in that self-depreciating sense that if I could write one of these, then it no longer seemed special. Also, when you enter a bookstore, as a published writer you’re all of a sudden concerned about whether or not the store has a copy of your book, how many they have, was it on offer, and so on. Visiting a bookstore when you’re an author can become something of a self-indulgent trip if you’re not careful.
Then I visited the Strand Book Store in New York, which has 18 miles of shelves. That’s a lot of books, from new-ish releases to antiquarian books on the top floor. And, pretty quickly, in another city, far away from my own concerns, I remembered why I loved books. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many tomes, so many forgotten writers, to wander through those maze-like shelves. There was an energy about the place. Something clicked.
The place reminded me of how bookselling should be (and used to be like): not stacking discounted items high in a race to the bottom of the industry. Instead, books were displayed everywhere according to what staff wanted or recommended rather than some central list. That made for a lot of fascinating browsing. There were loads of friendly booksellers on hand, too. The entire building seemed like a book haven, with a strong community feel: something buying online or ebooks can’t provide. You can just tell when a bookstore is loved by people – because it’s full of customers even in the middle of the week.
Needless to say, I bought loads of books (things on Roman history and law, related to a future project), but I didn’t even think about what I was spending because it was just so pleasant to stand in a place that clearly loved books. I thought it was pretty much the perfect bookstore. If you ever happen to be in New York, you must pay a visit.
And if anyone else knows of some hidden gems, then please share…