Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bookstores

My first crush on a bookstore was the Scholastic catalog. It was four pages of advertisements, passed out at school, and I would be allowed to buy one book from the catalog. I would read the whole thing through several times, to find the very best choice. I was five, and I bought a book called Tubby and the Lantern by Al Perkins. In it, a small elephant and his Chinese friend build a flying hot-air powered paper lantern and fly on it into the night. I often dreamed of flying, and loved the idea of making something of paper and light that you could ride into the sky. Scholastic came to the school, too, with book fairs. I bought a choose-your-own-adventure book from the fair, called Supercomputer. On the cover was a golden robot, with four legs and tank treads, and whose head was a monitor with an astronaut helmet around it. I loved the idea of a machine that was somehow, also, a person, and I couldn't get enough stories about friendly robots. But the book had some horror to it as well. In one of the endings, the androgynous main character ("you") agrees to have a computer implanted in the skull to enhance intelligence. It works. But looking in the mirror, the character realizes that for the rest of his (or her, or your) life, there will be a metallic object like an upside down ice cream cone protruding from his head.

I loved Waldenbooks. (Besides the toystore, I couldn't figure out what point there was to the rest of the mall.) But there were so many new thoughts, new images, new lives to be lived in the bookstore. I bought The Dragonbone Chair from a Waldenbooks. The cover image of a peasant boy desperately trying to rescue his tiny eskimo friend who has been shot with an arrow, while escaping through the ruins of an elven city of malachite and jade was something I wasn't able to pass up. I rarely had much money, just from birthdays or special chores, usually, but the only thing that I felt like was a fair value for the money was stories.

When I was in Japan, I liked to visit bookstores I happened to ride past on my bike, although I had been forbidden to do it by my mission president. The books were mostly unreadable (I only learned to speak Japanese, not read it) but they were all the more fascinating for that. I gravitated towards books for children, and books of origami, where the pictures carried more of the weight.
When I got back to the U.S. there was Borders. The idea that there was a bookstore where they put padded chairs in the store so you could just go and read, without even buying the book-- it seemed like an economic impossibility, a perpetual motion machine of inexhaustible entertainments. I don't think I ever bought anything to eat or drink there-- the cost of a muffin was comparable to the cost of a paperback-- but I loved the scale of the place, almost a library.

At college they had the BYU bookstore, a sprawling place that I could walk through twice a day, going to and from classes. It had an odd section called LDS Fiction, which was basically fanfiction of  all the other genres, from romance to science fiction to horror. If I made it down to center street, and the owner happened to be around that day, I could go to Brigham Book and Copy. I bought a battered copy of Seventh Son to get signed by the author. He told me he could tell it had been well-loved. I didn't correct him, because although his belief was unjustified, it was still true.

In Manhattan, there was the Strand, of course, three stories of used books, many carefully selected. Every time I asked someone for help, they were so kind to me I felt like I was being flirted with. There was a little alternative bookstore near NYU, full of pictures of tattooed backs and rainbow eyed girls, where I bought a copy of The Diamond Age to better discuss interactive fiction with the inventors of that field.

When I lived in Dayton I visited a lot of bookstores, but my favorite was Half-Price Books. They were mostly new books, but discounted from overstock.  I was lonely in Dayton, living in a dingy apartment by myself, and spent many hours in the stores, just browsing, occasionally buying something here or there. I bought an enormous book of Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings.

Once when I was visiting Arizona, I found a bookstore with an enormous shelf full of old roleplaying games. I visited many bookstores in Paris, London, and Germany, but my favorite was a tiny one-room store in a stone hut on the hill of Tara in Ireland. I bought a book of fables there from the early 1700s.

Here in Frederick my bookstore is Wonder Book and Video. They have a collection of antique childrens' books that I often browse, and loose pages from books of 19th century prints that have fallen apart. If you get on their mailing list, once or twice a year you can get everything for half their already low used prices. It's a place you can get lost in for hours.

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