Sunday, September 13, 2009

Bibliobarns and Book Villages in the Catskills

Omphalos Mundi? Omphalos Biblii?

One might not typically associate "books" with "navels," but when you have a critical mass of book shops in the middle of rural upstate New York, one might consider it the perfect confluence of bookishness. The fact is, more than half a dozen book shops now occupy some plot of land in or around the small village of Hobart, NY--now considered (at least by their own road sign) the "Book Village of the Catskills." It was some decade and a half ago that its first major book functionary, the now famed "Bibliobarn" took stage in the pastured meadows and hillside town of South Kortright. I went and visited the Bibliobarn and its proprietors back in the 1990s with my sister, and was impressed back then. The husband and wife team have owned it all of these years, and fostered the growth of the book village concept since then. Though, as I've been told, the Bibliobarn is up for sale--both locations (there's another branch recently opened in nearby Andes, NY) are listed at ~$500,000, the barn in South Kortright and the entire inventory of tens of thousands of books. Nonetheless, if you are ever in the Albany or Hudson Valley area, you should take a day and make a trip out into the western wilds of central New York state (or, "east-central" NY state). Places like Hobart, Andes, Margaretville, and Delhi (which has the Steinway Book Company, and found at the following URL: ..., and pronounced DEL-high, unlike its Indic sub-continental predecessor) are all quite pleasant. The illustrious Bibliobarn does NOT have a website, and its owners have prided themselves on that. So you'll just have to go in person. Perhaps one of the most intriguing and special spots connected with the Bibliobarn is the Biblio-Outhouse (not like Thomas Cole's Privy, which we wrote about some weeks back)--the Biblio-Outhouse is where the "sale" books are. Something like 10 cents each. But these are some real gems: there was a bunch of old Czech violin music, histories of Europe, and hardback novels of some note. The barn itself is a cozy loft-style structure with sturdy beams and rafters of fresh-looking hewn wood; and of course there's a dog or two sleeping on the ample couches offered near each window. The music and literature sections were impressive (books on opera, as well as violin making); and religion seems to predominate in various cross-referenced sections. When I first visited over ten years ago, I recall looking at a book on Spinoza's ethics and the wife of the owner-team started chatting with me. I told her I'd been studying in Jerusalem, and she said "Boker Tov" ("Good Morning" in Hebrew). Since then, she's gone off to seminary and become an ordained Episcopal priest, who preaches somewhere in the not too nether regions of Delhi. Though, when I spoke to her at the other Bibliobarn in Andes (we went to the original and spoke to the husband first, before making our way to the new shop, where the wife works) that afternoon, she told us some horrific story about a Nigerian Episcopal priest in a nearby upstate town, who'd stoned his mother (not to death), but severely nonetheless, because she "would not listen" to the son: she wouldn't put her sweater on! Apparently, the Church didn't think it was bad enough to punish the priest. If I got the full story right, the co-owner of the Bibliobarn left the more conservative branch of her Episcopal Church, because of this "stoning" and because of its position on (or "against") gay marriage). As she noted before we left the store: "it's natural, I told them [the Church] happens in nature: my dog is gay." Now she's at another church.

Downtown Hobart had some of the most remarkable book shops, and I must lament a moment, because my camera battery died shortly after arriving. So I was only able to take a few photos for this blog posting. Nevertheless, the greatest surprise of this trip was my visit to Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books: right here in the heart of New York farm country, a majestic and outstanding shop dedicated to rare and antique books! The owners are professionals from New York City--attorney and doctor, wife and husband team. And close to retirement. Their dedication really shows. The husband had taught himself Greek, and was translating Hippocrates. It's unfortunate that I did not have a usable camera to show you the inside of this shop, but a trip north to Hobart is well-worth it, even if it is just to see this gem of a shop! Below is an image of the front of the shop. The books in the window above are a close up of the same bookstore.

Again, my apologies to my readers: the Hobart International Bookport is the only other bookshop I was able to photograph, and yet there were two more book shops on the street that did not have the luck to be photographed by me! Too bad. Next time I'll check to see that my batteries are charged...along with my curiosity and wanderlust.

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