Sunday, October 14, 2007
If I Were Rich, I Know Where I'd Spend It
Yesterday we took an afternoon road trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to see The Darjeeling Limited and then loiter around Harvard Square. We spent a good amount of time in two excellent bookstores. The first was Curious George, a children's bookstore with an inspired selection and creative toys. The second was the Harvard COOP, a four-story giant filling two buildings and most of a city block. The new building is attractive inside with winding staircases and balconies lined with extensive inventory. Our time in book paradise started us reminiscing about some of our favorite bookstores across the world, and we made a long list. Here are just a few of those.
Beckham's, New Orleans: The first bookstore I visited that taught me how great a bookstore can be. I recall sitting in the aisle by the tall windows up on the second floor, perusing their C.S. Lewis offerings.
The Book House, St. Louis: We frequented many excellent bookstores in St. Louis, including another favorite, Left Bank, but upon my first visit to The Book House, I was charmed to discover the Poetry Nook upstairs, a tiny shelf-lined room with a dormer window and rocking chair. They also had several lazy cats in residence (my favorite was a fat, amiable Siamese named Chaucer) and a ghost (who was friendly, the owners were always quick to point out).
Blackwell's, Oxford, UK: Blackwell's is another enormous bookstore with a grand selection, including used copies on the top floor. For me, their strongest points are: 1. they are in Oxford, and 2. they offer literary tours of Oxford, including an Inklings Tour.
Schuler, Grand Rapids: Our favorite place to wile away the hours on a winter evening in Michigan, Schuler's looked a bit like a Border's but had more character, including snug leather chairs by a fireplace in the art section.
The Tattered Cover, Denver: This is the best bookshop name ever, although Ickie might argue in favor of L.A.'s Storyopolis. Either way, I visited The Tattered Cover on a snowy October day, and this warm old building with cozy chairs scattered about was so inviting.
City Lights, San Francisco: Not only a great bookstore, this is a historic site of the Beat movement. Although I always feel I'm not hip enough to be in here, I enjoy it nonetheless.
Book Soup, Los Angeles: This store seems too romantic for Beverly Hills, crammed close with shelves at odd angles. We found many many reading ideas here, and I appreciated that they let you climb the ladders to the upper shelves on your own.
Unnamed bookstore, Katoomba, Australia: I saved the best for last...if only I could remember its name! I spent a damp, cold, foggy day in the Blue Mountains of Australia, but wandering into this bookshop was an instant elixir. A genial, gray-bearded man greeted me with "Come right in! Look around." Tweedily clad, he was seated in a shabby armchair with his pipe in front of the fire. Only about half of his musty leather-bound books fit on the shelves; the rest were stacked helter-skelter around the small shop, where I wandered around exploring and feeling dreamy. This is how I'd always imagined the ideal bookshop.
There are many not included on this list, such as the manifold stores on Charing Cross Road in London. I haven't yet spent enough time in New York or Chicago to discover their best bookstores, and I've always heard that Hay-on-Wye on the Welsh border is a Mecca for literary fiends, so my list needs expansion. Feel free to add your favorites in the comments.