It is dangerous to find a new bookstore because its novelty entices spending. Just like trying a new restaurant, the new bookstore, especially if it evokes more nostalgia than the last shop, seems to say, let’s see how it feels to buy a book here. Experiences are a thing, right?
Like most things in life, the quality of a bookstore says a lot more about a business than the quantity of shops. News reports tell of more and more bookstore closures. But look more closely and maybe some of those lost bookstore chains needn’t be mourned so much. For they pale in comparison with the curated collections of books at say, Duant Books in London, or the Alphabet Soup children’s bookstore in Seattle.
My latest discovery is Alabaster Books in the East Village. Right on the table as I walked in the first time was a well-worn copy of a book on model airplane construction. Inside, a penciled $100 revealed that the book has value that has survived decades — it was published in the mid-20th century. The young store clerk added further charm to this shop. He knew exactly where to find East of Eden ($12) for me, and, on another visit, chatted with another customer about Nassim Taleb’s books. The shelves in the small, one-room store were lined with books I want to read, or books I have enjoyed. but they looked even grander in their first or second edition dust jackets. Here are early Arthur Ransome printings, second edition Strunk and White ($7), the Nancy Drew hardcovers I grew up reading. This intimate room is where books are treasured.
I want to take them all. For in this new setting, books have been transformed in my mind’s eye from bundles of paper filled with knowledge into art to admire. I want to linger in their midst as in a museum. I want to bring that magic air home.