A Good Bookstore Visit Is.

I spent about forty-five minutes at Moe’s the other day, and it reminded me of every single reason that I love being in bookstores (aptly as I just, by the powers vested in me as overseer of this blog, named it the #1 Bookstore in the East Bay). It’s not something I’d maybe put into words before, and it’s more than the fact that they’re filled with books, which one can subsequently purchase. It’s because a good bookstore visit is like a portal to the entire interior world.

As someone who can be kind of introverted, unadventurous, a homebody, the world can sometimes feel small. On especially hermit-y weekends it’s about the size of my apartment. (Again: small.) It’s also the size of my routine: the sidewalks that take me to work, the bus stops I wait at, the lunch spots I go to, the cubicle I somehow spend forty hours a week inside of. It’s no bigger than my regular news sources, and email, and Facebook. It’s the people I deign to see on a regular basis.

So imagine how delightful and how freeing it is to step into a space where tangential un-thought-of worlds open and explode around you, in unexpected ways. You pull a book off a shelf and it’s like you suddenly see, not just what’s on the page but everything that page implies, everything it could potentially lead to—consecutive nights of reading, long philosophical discussions, knowledge of untold unthought-of things. An entire hinted-at world. Opening and exploding.

It’s the next best thing to skydiving. Or seizing the day, the way they do in, like, pharmaceutical commercials.

At Moe’s, we spent forty-five minutes on the basement level and never even made it to the second floor (fiction). And it was still enough to inspire this blog post. Moe’s basement level—which is more like Floor negative-0.5, because it’s just a few steps down from the entrance—has a substantial music section, some children’s literature, critical theory, and a bunch of fiction that for some reason is not on the second floor (fiction).

Where to begin. There were full Wagnerian opera scores. There was loose sheet music from old Hollywood films dating from 1933. There was a two-volume set of Mozart’s letters, PUBLISHED IN 1866. ($65 for the set.) There was a multi-volume collection of Henry James works. There were children’s books from when I was a child (the self-same edition of The Secret Garden that I had/still have). There were children’s books from when my parents were children (or at least youngish: an original printing of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, 1974). There were children’s books from when really old and/or dead people were children (Folk Tales from the Far East, 1927, with illustrations).

There were compact, modest new paperbacks with stunning artwork of Ray Bradbury’s best-loved novels. There was a full shelf of Vonnegut. There were Beatles guitar fake books.

EVERYTHING ONE COULD WANT. If by “everything” you mean more than one could possibly hope to conceive of in one forty-five-minute period, what with the limitations of the human mind and all that. A finite “everything,” but subjectively, still, everything.

And you leave thinking, buzzing, full of ideas and subjects and fodder for your theories, big and small, grandiose and mundane (I like both kinds). You come away more than you were.

And I could not, conceivably, come away empty-handed in such a situation, even though I’ve been trying to limit my book purchasing in anticipation of a very big upcoming move. I left with the sheet music for “Love Songs of the Nile” from talking picture The Barbarian (for my Orientalist music collection, of course), the aforementioned Folk Tales from the Far East collected by one Charles H. Meeker (who in 1927 was apparently a high school history teacher in Florida, formerly a teacher in the Philippines—for my old book/Orientalist book collection, of course), and The Martian Chronicles.

Here’s pictures of Orientalia and otherness that I encountered on this wonderland-freaking-visit. And The Martian Chronicles.

Folk Tales from the Far East, 1927

Folk Tales from the Far East, 1927

Love Songs of the Nile sheet music, 1933

Love Songs of the Nile sheet music, 1933 (first line: “Allah — smiling on high!”

Illustration from James Fenimore Cooper's The Deerslayer

Illustration from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer

American Indian Rhapsody sheet music

American Indian Rhapsody sheet music

Explanatory notes on American Indian Rhapsody, including where this "Indian music" came from

Explanatory notes on American Indian Rhapsody, including where this “Indian music” came from

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5 responses

  1. Always nice to read about someone who truly enjoys visiting bookshops. Keep exploring!

    1. I feel the same way. Thanks for reading!

  2. Wow, somebody who loves bookshops, hats off to you. It will interest you to know that Moe’s is not the best bookshop in the East Bay, it is one of the world’s greatest bookshops, and probably THE world’s greatest scholarly bookshop, yes, in any country (please name one better). This opinion comes from somebody who has started eight bookshops (latest Owl & Company on Piedmont in Oakland) and spent the last 35 years visiting hundreds, no thousands of bookshops all over North America, Britain, Europe and parts of Central America, Africa, and even Nome Alaska (yep they have or had a bookshop there). Moe’s probably won’t tell you this but thanks to showrooming (look it up) their sales have declined dramatically over the last 10 years. Everybody LOVES a bookshop, but most love a Amazon bargain even more. Truth is though, prices at most used bookshops are even lower that Amazon. Really enjoyed your post!

    1. Todd– Yes, I wish more people appreciated and supported their local bookshops. I make a point to buy as much as my limited budget allows in my favorite used and new bookstores. Moe’s is of course fantastic, and there are so many great places in SF and Oakland/Berkeley– I’ve heard of Owl & Company but have not had the chance to go yet, I will definitely make a stop next time I’m in the Bay! (I live in Illinois now, so am in the process of exploring the bookshops out here.) Thanks for reading!

  3. I always visit bookstores whenever one presents itself! I live about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. Other than the city itself, pickings are kind of lean. Nevertheless, I have amassed almost 2,ooo books–a true “bibliophile I am!”

    I am quite happy I came across your website/blog…hope you’re still into it@

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