A bookish visitor

April 6, 2010 at 12:00 am 7 comments

This past weekend I had the pleasure of a visit from an old college friend who, when I asked her what she wanted to do in New York, despite the infinite possibilities, simply asked, “Can we visit the Strand?” Here was clearly a visitor of bookish quality, I thought to myself with a grin. I of course acquiesced to her request and, following our visit to New York’s book mecca, somewhat accidentally led us on a journey through Greenwich Village highlighting its various bookstores, including Partners & Crime, bookbook (formerly the Biography Bookstore), and Mercer Street Books and Records.

I didn’t intend to make our stroll a hit-list of the Village’s bookstores, it just happened that way. Of the stores we visited, I really only knew about one beforehand, so I can only assume the whole walk was a result of my love of books subconsciously manifesting itself in the form of guiding my feet. Or perhaps it was fate. Whatever it was that ended up placing us in these stores made me ponder when and where I allow myself to go book-shopping.

Usually, book-buying abandon is something I save for vacations. Guilt-free book shopping is a luxury and one which I typically only allow myself when I’m far from home. What makes me act like buying books is so much more practical when I have to drag them back from Far Away? Why is that the only time I let myself enjoy book stores?

I suppose the easy answer is that if I let myself do this all the time I’d be “penny wise and book foolish,” as Starrett says. I would have lovely piles and shelves full of books and no money left for silly things like food, rent, or clothing. Some self-restraint is clearly necessary. The other answer is that vacations are supposed to be about enjoyment and, to a certain extent, unreality or escape, so it stands to reason that I would save book-perusing (that which I most enjoy and that which I don’t allow myself at home) for vacations. It’s fun, it’s escapist, and it has a wonderfully “Oh, what the heck!” aspect to it.

I was so proud of myself lately because I rediscovered libraries, which means as many free books as I can carry. But, while I do love libraries, there is something truly edifying about book-shopping and book-owning. I’d forgotten just how much I love both those activities and, happily at least for this weekend, my bookish visitor reminded me.

The possibilities in these stores were dazzling, the feel of various types of paper and covers and heft was ineffably soothing and perfect, and the smell of slight mustiness combined with newly-glued spines was intoxicating. It was a perfect spring day outside but, for some reason, being inside bookstores seemed exactly where I was supposed to be. I’ve mentioned my “problem” here before, and going into these book stores was something akin to a gambler returning to Vegas.

Suffice to say both my friend and I came away with excellent book-hauls. I didn’t “need” any of the books I bought and I hadn’t even heard of half of them before I discovered them, but it was blissful. Book foolish, absolutely.


Some of my foolish purchases:
A Matter of Taste: the Definitive Seasoning Cookbook (some excellent potato recipes as well as sage–ha, ha–advice about spices and herbs)
Why I Write by George Orwell
Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson (the Penguin Great Ideas edition I’ve been searching for!)
Forbidden Fruit: From The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (A Penguin Great Loves Book)
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer for $1, which was about the absolute most money I wanted to spend on this particular cultural milestone
The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison (never heard of it but it sounds wonderful)

I also restrained myself and did not buy Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs, Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age, some random issues of The Colophon which looked delightful, various and sundry Agatha Christie, and The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. I only regret the last.


Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , , , .

Weekly Geeks: Checking Out Libraries Georges by Alexandre Dumas

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  April 6, 2010 at 8:04 am

    I think you know what we’ll be reading aloud if we ever take another road trip! :D “Do I…dazzle you?”

    This weekend sounds like it was awesome. I love buying books from far away, mostly because then those books serve as souvenirs. When I buy a book from another place, I always write the name of the bookstore, the city, and the rough date on the first page — that way, when I read, say, The Dharma Bums, I have a rush of nostalgia about City Lights Books in San Francisco, and how much fun I had on that trip.

    What a great post! You’re making me want to go book shopping. Thank goodness there are no good bookstores in Valencia, or I’d be in trouble.

    • 2. Corey  |  April 6, 2010 at 9:17 am

      Ha! You would not believe the number of “supernatural romances” we saw this weekend, so I think we’ll have plenty of fodder for our next road trip!

      Yeah, I definitely thought of you with all the book buying since you’re normally the person I peruse with when I’m off somewhere Far Away. (See: Ontario, Ventura, Dublin, and Erie!) I love your idea of writing down when and where the book came from. When I finish a book I do something similar, but it would be nice to have a record outside my fallible head of where the book hails from.

      Glad you liked the post!

    • 3. Britney  |  April 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

      That’s such an interesting idea! I once bought a book simply because someone noted date, time, and place she started reading the book on the first page, and the same for where she finished reading it. I thought it might be fun to do the same before passing it on.

      • 4. Corey  |  April 7, 2010 at 5:38 am

        It’s funny you should mention that because I have a collection of inscribed books (basically books that have anything on the front pages, whether its a dedication, a gift inscription, or just a “I read this book here” declaration). I would have totally bought the book for the same reason! I love the notion of a book having a personal history and me being in a line of readers loving it, too. (Or hating it, I suppose!)

  • 5. Britney  |  April 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    It turns out the paranormal romance I bought is third in a series, but that’s okay. I just can’t stop reading vampire romance, even though it’s probably very bad for me. And I read the first letter in Letters to a Young Mathematician on the trip home, and there was a reference to Madeleine L’Engle! You had quite a good eye!

    • 6. Corey  |  April 7, 2010 at 5:37 am

      I’d imagine that they probably all have similar plots, though, so I hope you don’t need too much info from the first two books to make out the third. Good luck!

      And I’m so glad Letters is a win! Madeleine L’Engle AND math! Score!

  • […] library — a side effect of leaving New York and thus having readier access to libraries than expansive used book stores — and, to my utter shock, I’ve come to feel more at ease in spaces that aren’t […]


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