acquiring, collecting, reading, adapting

Category: bookstore

Bookstores of London

Recently I went (with my mother) on what I consider a grand literary tour of England. I plan a few posts on our visits to the homes of many dead authors. In the meantime, feast your eyes on these pictures of bookstores in London.

cute decoupaged bookshelves!

In a different bookstore, there was a cool old fireplace in the basement, where they keep the less expensive used books

one of the many beautiful window displays of vintage ephemera in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee

my one and only regret on the trip is that I only discovered this bookstore on our last day, after it had closed

just look at all these copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!


Bookstore Visit: Shakespeare and Company

On a recent trip to Paris, we had to stop into the famous English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company. We were delighted to find inspiration everywhere!

That's me, through the window!

stained glass at the front counter

This nice clerk tried to find me a copy of Les Miserables. Don't you think it's weird they didn't have it?

books all the way up to the ceiling

books in every imaginable spot -- there was even a shelf built up under the stairs

and on the steps were the ones that didn't fit on shelves

or just, you know, in a big, unsorted pile (I actually bought a book that was on the top)

the walls have illustrations of famous authors

there's a piano upstairs for anyone to play on (this young woman, who was from Spain, played songs by Coldplay and Eric Clapton, while her friends sang along)

All in all, a charming, comfortable haven for the book lover! I purchased three used books (Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, Katherine Mansfield’s collection The Garden Party, and Mary McCarthy’s A Charmed Life, about which I know nothing), and they stamped the first page with a Shakespeare and Company logo stamp, something more bookstores should do! Stop in if you’re ever in Paris.

Bookstore Visit: Montague Bookmill

Have I ever told you about my favorite bookstore?

Here is it, from across the street...

Come this way for a used-book heaven!

Ok, from a practical standpoint, my favorite bookstore is probably the Harvard Bookstore, which has just about every book you could want, can order anything they don’t have, holds great events, has a very extensive used section, and is very convenient to my home. But from an idealistic perspective, it’s the Montague Bookmill in Montague, MA (in Western Mass/ the Pioneer Valley, about half an hour from Northampton).

Located in a 19th-century gristmill next to the Sawmill River, the Montague Bookmill is absolutely dreamy. Every time I go there, I just want to curl up in one of the vintage chairs and fall asleep while reading. The mist from the river and dam make it feel so cozy, and the beautiful antique windows add to the romance. Take a look.

Wooden beams, vintage chairs, rows of books. Oh, my!

For some reason, this little reading nook reminds me of Emily Dickinson.

The art-books room, with its artfully worn painted floors, is especially beautiful.

The children’s section, where I found a lovely old copy of Charlotte’s Web and a paperback copy of an old favorite I had not come across before, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (does anyone remember reading that book?).

A display of vintage typewriters greets you when you go down the stairs.

Here are a few rare blog pictures of me!

You can’t tell, but I’m reading an awesome pulp copy of The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

The breathtaking view from the chair I’m sitting in.

Do I look like a ghost? Like I stepped out of my Wilkie Collins novel? Come on, humor me!

What makes the Bookmill even better is that they have a sense of humor. After all, their slogan is, “Books you don’t need in a place you can’t find” (and if you’ve ever been to Montague, you’ll know it’s definitely out of the way!).

The banner outside has the store’s motto on it, but you can’t tell from this picture.

And you gotta love a sign like that!

So if you’re ever in Western Mass/Pioneer Valley near Northampton or Amherst, take a side trip to the Bookmill. And while you’re there, make sure to have dinner at The Night Kitchen, one of my favorite restaurants in Massachusetts — or anywhere, really. Utterly delish, and great for vegetarians (not one, but two vegetarian entrees!) as well as carnivores.

Literary Superfriends

My Strand Bookstore tote bag is so totally geek-chic awesome I can hardly stand it:

For anyone who doesn’t know, this image, created by comic artist R.Sikoryak, is a play on the iconic image from the opening of the Super Friends television cartoon from the 70s and early 80s:

The core of the Super Friends/Justice League of America group consists of Superman, Batman, Robin, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. They were joined by some, uh, much lesser-known sidekicks; in the first season (pictured above), these sidekicks were Wendy, Marvin, and Wonderdog (what?), but in the subsequent seasons–the ones I remember–the sidekicks were the famous Wonder Twins and their, um, purple space monkey, Gleek (huh?).

In any case, the Sikoryak literary version keeps the original configuration of two women and five men. (Sensibly, he has dispensed with the animals; though it might have been funny to have had a monkey typing out Hamlet, but oh, well.) He has also drawn Shakespeare in the Superman stance, which I love. I would pretty much agree with Shakespeare being the Superman of literature.

After the Shakespeare/Superman configuration, though, things get less obviously transposed (which of these authors, for instance, is Batman? Which two are the ineffectual sidekicks?), but what I’m interested in is the choices. In case you can’t tell, the authors pictured are (left to right): Dante, Emily Bronte, Herman Melville, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, and Oscar Wilde.

(Side note: I love that Dante appears to be wearing a fleece slanket, and Oscar Wilde is wearing what appear to be breeches and tights, a fashion choice that would have been a good 100 years behind the times for him. But he is also wearing the green carnation, so it’s all good.)

So, what do we think of this? Personally, I am a little surprised that Emily rather than Charlotte Bronte was chosen, though I suppose Emily might be perceived as having more spunk. Austen seems right, but Wilde and Melville are a little surprising to me, too. And when you throw Dante and Homer in, everything suddenly seems enormous in scope: how can we decide on the superheroes of literature if we can’t even confine ourselves to the English language? Obviously Dante and Homer and hard-hitters in the Western tradition, but if we’re not even going to narrow it to English, how can we narrow it down to only seven figures? Does this accurately represent the most super-heroic authors of Western literature? If not, who would you replace, and with whom?

Who are your picks for the seven Super Friends of literature?

(Oh, and before anyone accuses me of over-thinking trivialities: this is all in good fun, folks.)

Bookstore visit: Derby Square

I accidentally came across the most amazing bookstore last weekend: the Derby Square Bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts. Amid the goth gift shops and the outdoor stalls selling custom-fitted vampire teeth, the totally bewitching Derby Square Bookstore offers piles and piles and piles of books. Seriously, the books are just piled up! Here’s what we first saw from the outside:

Derby Square from outside

The window caught our eye right away...

Look at how those books are just piled against the window! Let’s check out another angle:


Observe how those books are just bent all willy-nilly and smooshed against the glass.  Here’s what the same pile looks like from the inside:

book pile from inside

The apparent disregard for the laws of gravity is spellbinding, no? You may be wondering how you could possibly find anything in here. But luckily, there are helpful signs:


helpful signs point the way

As you can clearly see, in this pile, Young Adult novels are at the bottom, History books are at hip level, and True Crime is at the top. Easy!

Here you can also see how there are books in front of books as well as on top of each other:

piles of books

not only piled up, but also piled out

Not only does the Derby Square Bookstore have an amazing number of books easily organized, but they also boast an impressive cataloguing system. For instance, I walked up to the cashier (picture Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons and you get the idea) and said, with obnoxious dubiousness, “I don’t guess you can tell me if you have a particular book, can you?” He claimed he could. Impressed, I asked if they had a particular title. He paused for a moment, looked up to the corner of his eyes, thought obviously very hard, then looked at me and said, “No.” Infallible!

Not only does the bookstore have piles of books, those books are all 50 percent off the list price. I found a copy of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson in the very middle of a huge pile and, with the help of a friend, successfully removed it without toppling anything, and then purchased it. I also purchased a copy of The Blithesdale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which was located in the “New England” section, because it only seemed right to buy a scary book and a Hawthorne book while visiting the witch capital of the world.

I would highly recommend visiting the Derby Square Bookstore if you are ever in Salem. It’s more thrilling than the Witch Museum and will utterly enthrall you.

Bookstore visit: Oceans of Books

On a recent trip to the Cape (that’s Cape Cod, if anyone who doesn’t know me happens to read this), we came across a bookstore in Wellfleet called “Oceans of Books.”

Front awning of Oceans of Books in Wellfleet

This bookstore is attached to a restaurant known around town as the “Bookstore Cafe,” even though that’s not its name, and there’s nothing bookish about it (we did eat there, and it was good, though). I overheard the woman at the cash register tell a customer that the bookstore used to be somewhere in regular Massachusetts (I forget where), and when the owner’s daughter decided to open a restaurant in Wellfleet, he moved the bookstore to its present location. Good idea, dad! I assume either the store changed its name when it moved, or they were already near an ocean, since it would be kinda weird to name a store Oceans of Books if you’re not near water, am I right?

The store has a cool vintage YA section…

…as well as something we need more of in bookstores: an “Alien Abduction/Occult” section!

Overall, they did have enough books to warrant the name “Oceans of Books,” if you ask me. I found a cool old grammar book and yet another Lewis Carroll book, and left a satisfied customer.