I wrote the following post last January and never posted it…
I went to the bookstore on my birthday. Bookstores are my happy place, and the one that I went to visit has a special place in my heart, I’ve known it a long time. I started going to The Shire Book Shop in Franklin sometime in middle school. I’d already become a fan of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, but new book prices were not in my reach at that age. My dad started taking me to an archery range, where I practiced for a few years (I may write more about this in another post), it was in the upstairs of an old textile mill building a couple of towns over. Those of you who live in New England know the kind of place I’m talking about; often converted to some kind of second hand store, or small manufacturing place, and lately being converted into high-priced loft apartments. The archery range was the entire top floor, a huge open space, with fifteen or twenty foot ceilings, and enough indoor space to shoot up to thirty yards. On the first floor in the same building, was the Shire Book Shop, in a similar space. But instead of a large open space it was packed with bookcases, and the cases were in turn packed with books. And there were piles of books at the ends of each row, and sometimes unsorted boxes of books in the isle. It was heaven. I bought all of my science fiction there for years, and they had it all, all the classics at least. I’m a hard science fiction fan at heart, and in those days you could find Clarke and Asimov, two shelves apiece, you could and I did, find most of what they had written on those lovely unfinished pine shelves. I discovered there Heinlein, Card, Lequin, Adams, Piven and countless others I can’t remember These days the greats are hard to find, even on the shelves of the Shire, I suppose there are more people who read the old books than ever and those that buy them keep them, even the old paperbacks.
In the winter time the proprietors had hot spiced cider in a big stainless steel container, and there were comfy chairs and couches. But I always preferred the stacks I guess. I would sit myself down on a step stool and read the first few pages of some book I was considering. I didn’t stick only to science fiction, mind you, although that was and still is my primary field of fiction interest. I found books of poetry there, and started delving into anthropology. I even bought a couple of books in Latin when I was taking the dreaded dead language in high school (no, I never did learn Latin well enough to read them, sorry Teach). I remember one day, after archery practice, I convinced my dad to help me look through the rare and old books section, a special area that I had not ventured into before. I was looking for a Mark Twain book for my grandfather, who was a huge Mark Twain fan (well, except for the later stuff, he and grandma both hated “Letters From the Earth”, though it was my favorite when I finally read it). That was the same day that I learned he was killed in an accident, and I remember the synchronicity of that day whenever I think of him.
So this year, on my thirty-third birthday I went back. Of course I’ve gone every few years, even when I lived in Seattle, the width of our great nation in between. It was one of my “have to” stops whenever I was in town, along with Royal Pizza, Bertucci’s and my favorite steak and cheese place in Framingham. Over the years the pickings got thinner in the science fiction section, as more geeks held onto their copies of Foundation or 2001. But I almost always found a few old gems that would jump out at me and insist on coming home with me to live on my shelves.
This trip, I ended up with a bag full of them. And I ended up talking with Jean, one of two booksellers there. We talked about the slow decline of brick and mortar stores, and the even harder time that used places have with the rise of Barnes and Noble and Borders (who are failing now as I type, killed of in turn by the giant Amazon and other online booksellers). She told me they can no longer serve the hand crafted hot cider that they used to, the guy who supplied them had been shut down, his oak barrels and un-pasturized juice of the gods having run afoul of overly restrictive laws that choke out small farmers And small suppliers alike.
But the Shire is still there and still selling books, the old kind, the loved kind, the kind that smell and feel the best, of a dozen other eager hands through the years that have cracked the very same pages, and thumbed the very same corners….