Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Boston Book Depot

Books, books, everywhere!  I spotted this little box...actually, this BIG box in the corner of a parking lot in Quincy, Massachusetts, just south of Boston, at the local YMCA.  I wonder what sort of donations they get?  According to their website (, there are some 491 of these containers out there as of August 2012, and the charity distribution is over $1.3 million.  Who said that "books" weren't "big business" any more?

A Korean Book Shop and a Jesus Vase

I came across this for the second time now, after wandering the streets of Manhattan--just on 32nd Street off of Broadway.  I had a little treat at a local Korean eatery, nearby.  But I thought I'd share the curiosities of this shop as I saw through the window: not just books, but a "Jesus Vase."  Now THAT'S some bookstore!  Unfortunately, I don't know what the vase actually says, but the visage in unmistakable (like anyone really knows what he looked like!)  Perhaps, though, it is the raised "hand of peace?"  In any case, the Koryo Book shop might come under the category of "book/gift shop," since it carries not just your usual reading fare, but the physical curiosities and trinkets that might be consumed by folks with deep pockets or interested souls.  I'll stick to the fried fish for now.  Others can have their IXTHEIS. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bargain Books

What's in a Name?

I think some things are best left without description.  But I'd say this is probably one of the most interesting bookstore names I've ever come across!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Books at St. Paul the Apostle

Pictures are Worth a Thousand...

Sometimes is it's simple enough to let the photos and pictures speak. I've visited many churches over the years, and the great Catholic churches are cultural and symbolic gold mines. The images and symbols of books are everywhere in churches like these, and St. Paul the Apostle in NYC is no exception. Here we see such things as real books, pictures of books, sculptures of books, and even a few other curious items, including a human mask (apparently a burial mask). The history of this place is quite interesting, specifically related to the Paulist fathers and Isaac Hecker, whom this mask is supposed to represent. As I've looked at elsewhere, it is interesting to note that even inside of a church like this, there is a fairly robust little bookshop, located near the entrance and narthex. Beside this, the imagery of books is everywhere, as can be seen in these other photos. We cannot underestimate the power of the image!

New York Society Library

The Oldest Library in New York City

As I'm catching up on various visits, travels, and reports, I thought I'd only provide minimal commentary on places that had substantive and informative websites, for example. Today's post is about the old library in NYC, the New York Society Library, which the New York Area Theological Library Association (NYATLA) visited on its January excursion. Founded in 1754 the NY Society Library is an extraordinary find in the city's hustle and bustle, and something that is part of its cultural and historical fabric. Now located on Manhattan's upper east side, the library is somewhat tucked away, not far from Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had a fine day, touring with the lovely staff around the library and learning a great deal of its history. Below are images from our meeting and presentations that were giving of the rare collections that day. A coda to this story is that if this weren't enough of a splendid day, on the way home, a colleague and I walked by Woody Allen on the way to the bus. But I'd say that the library was surely more exciting for the group to experience than a momentary flash of the bashful director. Who said books were boring!?

More Books on a NYC Street

One Person's Trash... another person's book! I must say, that it can be surprising what some people throw out. But doesn't really surprise me anymore, considering how many books I've seen tossed over the years. The images I share with you today are from early February, when I was down on 42nd Street, over toward 9th Ave. It was actually a bit farther north, as I'd walked north from 42nd--probably somewhere around 50th. A storefront that had been emptied and posted "for rent" or "lease" had boxes of old books. They weren't great books, but I wouldn't say they were totally trash. I will admit that this time I did NOT take any of the books. But someone might have found them interesting. I wonder how many books are trashed every year? I wonder how many trees it constitutes? It's too bad more of them can't be recycled, as I imagine most of these items end up in regular trash bins. And I'm sure it's simply too expensive to even do that kind of statistical study. For now, we can just speculate and wonder. Keep your eyes open...for another discarded box of books! Though this find didn't yield much, another may--like the various times I've found brand new volumes in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.

Books at the Guggenheim

In Case You Missed It...

Some books in a nook--a real nook--at the Guggenheim "library" and "reading room." These are tiny spaces toward the top of the incline helix of the main gallery. I went to a curiously fun exhibit a couple months back, which included several interesting culturally interesting characters and images in odd positions. The artist, Maurizio Cattelan, has both a morbid sense of humor, and an artist's eye for the shocking and bizarre. The NYTimes Review can be viewed online. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the library and reading room at the Guggenheim is how many people were actually using the small and somewhat hidden space. The role of the art book is really still quite significant, and as these books are fairly costly to produce, there is much to be considered for their present and future value--whether we speak of cost value or cultural value. But people still lined up, and filled the seats of the micro-library and reading room, while Cattelan's waxy pope, JFK, and Hitler hung precariously high from the upper beams of Wright's cinnabon architecture.

Monastery Book Shop

Monastic "Book & Gift Shop"

I've often wondered and speculated about the role of the "book & gift shop" partnership. Somehow, at some level there is a relationship between the "book" and its 'artifactual' colleague, the gift. Of course, a book can be a gift. But the question is whether a "gift" somehow dilutes or enhances the role of the book by being in the same space and having the same relevance or worth. I'm not sure I actually have an answer.
What is clear is that both gifts and books are coveted items, seen as having some axiological importance for people. On a drive a few months back, along some old country roads, I passed by a monastery that I'd visited nearly two decades ago, and decided to stop again. I hadn't been there since the early 1990s, but it brought back memories of meetings and meals with the brothers there. The monastic quarters are located just south of Kingston, NY--and is an Episcopal monastic house, overlooking the river. When I first visited the place, I had a very interesting time--meeting with a diverse group of individuals, both living there and visiting, including some retirees who'd been participating in Elderhostel. I'd shared a dinner one evening, I recall with some of the brothers, who'd spoken to me about their faith and living in the community.

This time, it was a quieter visit. There was only one vehicle around and a couple of folks sitting around reading. I went in briefly and saw that the book shop was closed. So I decided to walk back outside and around a bit, taking in a view of the river nearby, before leaving. I'd promise myself to come back another time.

It may come as surprising that a monastic community would also have a place to sell books, having some external business, but this is nothing new--as in medieval times, monastic communities often served as producers of more than just books, but agricultural and farming commodities. So such was not uncommon at all. And it serves as a good interface with the public. So books or gifts or both... I'd say that if it offers a good connection to the monastic community, then onward!

"Cereal" Libraries?

Extolling the Merits of Libraries:
One Box at a Time

This surely gives a new meaning to "serials" in Libraries. Well, that's not exactly true. But usually, when we speak of "serials" in libraries, it has to do with such things as periodicals, magazines, and journals, for example. But one morning, while I was having breakfast, I discovered that the back of my "cereal" (NOT serial) box had an unusual advertisement (we might even call it an article) about...yes, libraries. There's got to be some story behind this promotional, and whatever it is, I'm glad that promo is there!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Shop in a Bathroom?

"I Need Some Privacy, I'm Reading"

I'm not even quite sure where to begin with this one. Not too long ago, I was visiting a local bookshop in my hometown, and went up to the second floor of the shop. The religion, philosophy, and biographies are held on the second floor. But there's also a section on science and history. I'd never paid much attention to the little old room at the end of the hall. Yet, for some reason, on one visit to the shop, I saw a sign that read "more books" with an arrow pointing down the hall. So I followed the sign. To my great surprise, I noticed that there was a sink and a shower in the room full of bookshelves. I guess I thought it was something simply out of use--a repurposed room. But then I realized, it was just plain quirky! When I went over to the sink, I noticed that there were personal effects on the counter around the sink, including a shaving brush, a razor, toothpaste, and a prescription mouthwash! It turns out that this was actually the bathroom of the owner--not in use during store hours, obviously!

The room adjacent to the bathroom with the shower and sink actually is a little toilet room. And you can see from the photos that it's a real toilet. I was tempted to flush it and see if it worked. I'm pretty sure it did. I mean, there were razors and toothpaste that seemed to be recently why not this toilet? I've seen some pretty interesting and creative uses of spaces in my day, but this is perhaps the most curious and ingenious (if you want to call it that!) It does prompt one to consider the boundaries of private and public, of the personalized home space and that of what your clients see. Though I find this to be a great little shop--O.U.R. it is called (as in "Old, Used, Rare")--I'm still scratching my head at the anomalous nature of this place, though. It has beautifully crafted shelves, and a broad and intelligent selection of books. But selling books in your bathroom? That's a wholly other level of thinking--one which I'm not sure I'm prepared to encounter! Imagine going to your bakery and having the table double as a bed? Or going into the hardware store and having a kitchen behind the shovel rack? I'll leave you with these delightful and magical photographs...for your bibliographic consumption!

Rural Book Shops: Johnstown, NY

Just Passing By (Buy?)

Every so often I'll be driving in some rural or far off locale and pass by something that seems a bit out of place. Now this isn't to say that rural-ness should mean a lack of books or bookstores, but that sometimes you just don't expect to see certain things. This was the experience I had a couple months ago, while I was driving out near Utica, NY--just to the north and east of there. I was in the little town of Johnstown, and as I drove through town, it became clear that this little place once had a fairly vibrant (if I can call it such) book-culture. Perhaps vibrant for a quiet locality in the southern foothills of the Adirondack mountains. It was unusual to find not one, but two book shops in such a small town. Sadly, though, this first little storefront was closed up. It had been called "Buythebook." The other shop, which was still open and only a block away was called "Mysteries on Main St." I'm glad to see that at least one book shop survives, especially in these hard economic times here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Shops on a Maine Highway--Route 1

"Book" is the new "Silk"

Of course we're all familiar with the famed and legendary "Silk Road," but perhaps less familiar with the not-so-famous or legendary "Book Road." Then again, this road may be famous inside the state of Maine, but not outside. Nonetheless, even if the locals have not officially named Route 1 along the state's coast "Book Road," I will give it that distinction. The interesting thing about this road is that it goes through some very pretty country, but is still in some parts rather rural. Yet, it has developed a book culture along its thoroughfares. Here is why this is interesting, and why I think some sociological speculation must come into play here for a few moments: in all of my travels around this country, I've rarely--if ever--seen a stretch of highway that boasted so many book shops or book sellers as Route 1. So what could be the reason?

Background: Once again, I was out driving back from a trip this summer, when I came through Bar Harbor. My schedule was tight and I was attempting to get back to NY within the course of one day (which, by the way, such a trip is a bit of a hike, and ended up taking me nearly 12 hours.) So pulling out of Bar Harbor and heading southwest on Route 1, I drove down the highway and passed through some lovely little old towns and villages. But every so often I would pass by a sign that read "books." And here is where the biggest irony or paradox came--here I am, the great book lover and searcher of off-the-beaten path book shops, and because of my crunched schedule, I couldn't stop at almost any! But it's no problem, because a) I can always go back, and in fact, make a trip of just that "book trail," and b) I have too many books as it is!--oh, and c) I'm a librarian for goodness sake!--what do I need more books for!?

Okay, so back onto Route 1: it's a splendid road, with some great views, especially the architecturally fabulous bridge near Fort Knox State Park, in Bucksport, ME. As I drive onward, with my nose and stomach fixed on finding "Maine's Biggest Lobster Role," which each successive road side shack and seafood restaurant was boasting, I began to realize that there weren't just "a few little bookshops" along Route 1--there were legions of them! Something wasn't quite right here...or maybe it was TOO right! I was both surprised and delighted to find this new "book highway" (perhaps the old fashioned version of the "information superhighway," except this was Route 1, and the houses and Queen-Anne's Lace were nicer than the internet.) This "bookway" then had me thinking--why on earth are there so many book shops here? Usually there'd be lots of antique shops, but book shops?

I then realized that the answer might just be found in looking at the demographics of the area--what is Maine, after all, especially in the summer and on the coast...but a tourist destination for New Englanders, especially Bostonians.

To explain this phenomenon a bit further, let me go back to some of my earlier bookish peregrinations. A few years ago, I was living in Chicago, and decided to visit Macinac Island (pronounced "MACK-in-aw") in northern Michigan. The distance between Chicago and northern Michigan is quite long--about 400 miles on the highways (one way!), and about 450 on the back roads, especially those along the western shores of the state overlooking Lake Michigan. Of course, on the way up, I took those back roads, mostly Route 31 north to Traverse City. The curious observation I made on this trip through Michigan, up to Macninac, was in the antique and book shops that I visited.

There were several antique shops, which I certainly found interesting, but also some curious book shops (one of the best was in a tool shed, off some side road, that I found while driving back to Chicago--and I bought a reasonably priced copy of Capote's "In Cold Blood" for ~$3). The thing I found odd about all of the book shops I visited in western Michigan was that a) the quality of books was rather low or average--and by "low or average," I mean the books were either romance novels or run-of-the-mill pulp, fiction and self-help books. Almost nothing in classic literature, no best sellers in non-fiction, or anything that gave a hint of the odd, the interesting, or even the foreign. There were no books in other languages or even translated from other languages. It was mostly bland fare. Now the other thing b) was that many of these books were way, way if the dealers and book shop owners thought their books (especially old books) had some intrinsic value based on their antiquity--even with mold and other things growing on them!

I would have thought this a fluke, to be seen at just one antique shop with its book stalls. But as the trip through Michigan went on, I consistently found that book stalls in antique shops and book stores were all pricing their books very, very high. I remember finding some grimy and stained old volumes of some Churchill histories running for near $30 a volume! And they weren't even close to half that in actual value. Perhaps the best part of the biblio-adventure was the discovery of a book sale at the public library located on the quaint and old fashioned, but rather well-to-do Mackinac Island. The residents, presumably of some means, as well as the visitors, some of whom shell out more than $600 a night to stay at the island's more posh hotels, would also have some interesting reading tastes, that might reflect their stations in life. Curiously, again, though there were some better books to be found in the Mackinac library--I bought McCullough's "Truman" (a beastly size, but good read) and Galsworthy's "Forsyte Saga" for mere change...probably a couple of dollars--the interesting thing was that the majority of the books I found were not exceptional or out-of-the-ordinary. It was more of a "Nora Roberts Library." Nothing against Nora Roberts, of course. I think the tone, though, was "power suits, in--Pickwick, out."

After that great Macinac trip, I thought for a long time about this: how come the quality of the books was so "average?" Perhaps the only other great find on that trip was at another library book sale. I don't remember the town that it was in, but I do remember that the best book at the sale--probably containing a few thousand books on its sale tables--was a Jane Smiley novel! (And I bought it!) Back to Maine, now. Driving down Route 1, and suddenly realizing the proliferation of book shops on this highway made me think back to that Michigan trip. But my thoughts about Michigan and about Route 1 in Maine were thoughts of contrast. Back in Michigan, the western shores of the state are, for many, a getaway from both Chicago and Detroit--and probably some other large midwestern cities. Many of those who go to these places are wealthy, or have to be, in order to afford some of the magnificent waterfront homes and condos that line the shores. In short, people come here to "chill out" and "relax," and not necessarily to read. But does that explain it completely?

Not really. I think it goes back to the locations of these places, and the culture of reading that exists in these two locales. Maine is and has traditionally been a place of refuge for New Englanders and Bostonians, groups who have a long history of intellectualism, historical memory, and family lineages. I'm sure there is more to it than simply these three things, but that academic culture seems to carry itself north in the summer. If you have droves of professors and university-level professionals running to the craggy banks of the Atlantic coast in Maine each year, they are bound to be carrying the newest, best, most classic texts with them, but also wanting to leave some behind, as well as find a few more books to read. And since Route 1 is "the" road of access to many of the greatest ocean vistas and summer rentals, it only makes sense that a culture of reading, books, book shops, and well-funded public libraries would emerge, grow, be fostered, and prosper in these hills leading to the sea.

The midwest's history is not as old in these fact New England has a good 200 year lead. And the culture is noticeably different when we look at book shops and libraries, what they carry, hold, sell... . These places are microcosms of the towns, states, and regions they are in. If you ever want to see if a place is a good fit for you to live, check out the libraries and book stores. I guarantee that you'll get a better sense of the place once you've visited one.