Last night I read and talked about my book in M is for Mystery in San Mateo, surrounded by hundreds, thousands of unread books.
I love bookstores.
Sometimes I think that if I could just own a bookstore, and sit in it and read, all day, then I would never write again.
I know it wouldn’t be like that. There’d be work to do, books to unpack and shelve, invoices to pay.
I’d never get away with sitting around and reading all the time.
And, no matter how much I liked to sit around and read, I would end up writing about the experience:
Sometimes a bookstore will come back to me.
Finding a book I’d forgotten about, a book double-shelved
And suddenly re-appearing,
A book fallen behind the couch or under the bed,
I remember where I first laid eyes on it
(if not always when)
so that every book gives me the history
of the bookstore where I bought it.
Were they real, these bookstores? Some I think
I made up, discovering a suppressed memory
Of that shop two doors down from City Lights in San Francisco
Just south of Vesuvio’s
With big glazed windows on either side of the door piled with books
And letting in an unusual amount of light for a bookstore
Although it seldom reached beyond the first high row of homemade shelves
Forming nooks and bays and canyons of print and paper.
Or the otherworldly bookshops of Chicago, the International Workers
Of the World bookshop with its portrait of Joe Hill
That shared a dusty loft filled with motes and slanting light and the
Ghosts of the 1930s
With the bookstore of the Surrealist Internationale.
Or a bookstore in London’s Notting Hill that I remember as circular
Though it couldn’t have been, it must have been my head that was turning,
With books of spirit photographs
Lying next to avant tomes by the latest brilliant Brits.
And who could forget the secondhand booksellers of the Bay Area,
Bald, broad-shouldered Tuvia presiding over the incredible staggering booktowers at the
Old, pre-fire-marshal-inspected McDonald’s Bookshop in the Tenderloin,
Or Moe of the old original Moe’s, pricing books in the basement,
Cigar defiantly alit,
Or all the many bookstore clerks your own age, long-haired and bearded and bespectacled
Whose jobs you envied with a low-simmering grudge,
Whom you might later see in the bars and Chinese restaurants of North Beach,
Surrounded by the glimmering aura imparted by the overwhelming presence of books.
And the best bookstore of all, the one whose shelves contain
All the books I didn’t buy, that I marked down but never returned for,
That I (shamefully) mis-shelved in incongruous sections, fooling no one,
Meaning to come back and redeem them,
Putting a first edition of Raymond Chandler
Upside down among sociology texts, books about golf.
Or books I left behind in a dither of indecision and then suddenly
Turned around in my tracks on my way back to work
And race-walked back to the bookstore to retrieve,
Only to find them gone, carried out under the arms of which of those
Agh. This is the bookstore I’m looking for, lost in the rain, my
Cheap umbrella turned inside out,
The address written in bic pen on a torn-out page of spiral notebook,
Already soaked and illegible in the rain-streaked light.
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