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.


Saint said...

You make me so envious. How I'd love to see half the places you have seen, particularly the book stores. I want so much to see the world, to travel hither and tither seeing all there is to see. I want to read all that I can in the little time I have been graciously given. My, there is so much to do and so very little time.

If I were very rich and I do mean unbelievably rich, I'd not only travel the world but I'd build myself a library. I'd fill it with every book this side of heaven and dedicate at least a wing of the library to you watoosa. Maybe even style it in this "fire hazard" style you are so fond of.


Watoosa said...

Patrick, you have plenty of time. I did most of my traveling in my 20s, and I heartily recommend that everyone spend a year or two overseas after graduating college. There are so many opportunities, and I actually saved up money while working in Indonesia!

You're welcome to come visit us anytime. We're so close to Boston, NYC, and Canada, so you can take a tour of the area. They have tons of summer jobs in Maine, too, if you wanted to stay a few months. Many of them are in Nat'l Parks where you can room with a bunch of other college students.

Saint said...

... I don't know what to say. That has to be the best idea I've heard of yet on how to spend my summer. Unfortunately I'll probably have to pend the first part of the summer in school due to an... unfortunate situation involving a chemistry class. Anyway, if you're serious I'd love to come and visit.

Watoosa said...

Patrick, just email or call me closer to summer and we'll figure something out. There's always a chance we might be traveling or moving into a house or something disruptive, but you ought to visit sometime b/c Maine is great! If you want a job up here, even for just a part of the summer, I see so many fun ideas that I can point you in the right direction.

FYI, I didn't have any allergies up here during this summer, so you'd probably like that too!

hayumbone said...

What a perfect post to curl up to on a rainy morning, imagining oneself into one of these lovely spaces. Food is one way to imbibe the sense of a place; I firmly believe bookshops are another.

Manalive said...

--sputter-- --sputter-- but the coop is just Barnes & Noble! You should really go to MacIntyre and Moore in Davis Square, Somerville. Or the Harvard Book Store (in Harvard Square-- check out the remainders!) or the Grolier Poetry Book shop (also in Harvard Square) But MacIntyre and Moore is my favorite-- an academic used bookstore next to a fantastic coffee shop (the diesel cafe). Alas, alas, alas, how I miss you Davis Square!


Watoosa said...

Scott, thanks! We'll make a note to go to the one in Davis Square next time we are in town!

Watoosa said...

FYI, we've also been to the Harvard Book Shop.

Manalive said...

I'm glad to hear it-- did you buy any remainders?

Ickenham said...

the coop is just Barnes & Noble!

I wondered if it had been acquired by a larger chain when I saw some of the promotional materials. But I wouldn't have guessed it was a B&N. The selection and atmosphere was FAR better than any B&N store I've ever been in.