Have you had the experience of discovering an amazing bookstore, one that seemed to have any book about anything? There seemed to be miles of shelves, cubby holes where you could curl up with a book, and great bargains on remaindered books–ones you wanted to read when they were full price, except you hadn’t gotten around to it.
In a Literary Hub article I discovered that we have James Lackington to thank for all of this. Lackington opened a store in 1774 in London that revolutionized bookselling to this day. His store, The Temple of Muses, eventually stocked 500,000 volumes. He bought large quantities of remaindered titles and, instead of destroying most of them to drive up the price, he passed the savings on to customers. He had four floors of books with “lounging rooms” for customers. It sounds like it was an incredible place.
I remember my first visit to a Borders store while we were house hunting in Columbus. This was when they were still owned by the Borders brothers. I couldn’t believe the depth of selection in each topic area, there was an amazing sale table, and lots of places to sit and browse your finds, as well as a cafe so that you could do it all drink in hand. All the things Lackington figured out made a great bookstore were present.
Now Borders is gone. There is only one major brick and mortar bookseller to speak of. More and more, the selection is limited to either the most significant or most current books in a genre. The only “everything” store is online. But there are still some great stores around the country such as Powell’s or BookPeople who still approximate this ideal. And the second hand stores, particularly some of the Half Price Books stores provide the opportunity for finding great bargains and unusual books. There are some independents as well, some in out of the way places like Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, Ohio that approximate this ideal.
I find myself wondering if a generation from now, people will still have the jaw-dropping experience of walking into a huge bookstore that seems to stock everything, where there are miles of aisles and shelves to explore on every conceivable topic. I also wonder if we will foster a culture that values such places. But there is the wonderful experience of finding your favorite section, and leisurely reading down the shelves of books and making those serendipitous finds that a logarithm or a heuristic might not predict because it only goes off your past history, and not your future interests, the ones that may be awakened by a title, a book cover, or a table of contents. It is a cultural good I hope we do not lose.
I do feel fortunate because in our city, Columbus, while we don’t have any “temples” to books, we have some pretty interesting stores. Some, like the Book Loft in German Village, with its 32 rooms over a couple floors, or the Half Price store on Lane Ave that sprawls and winds through a couple connected buildings get kind of close to Lackington’s ideal. A while back I wrote a post about bookstore crawling in Columbus. If you ever come through, I hope you will come visit some of my favorite places and help keep them alive!
I’d love to hear about your amazing bookstore experiences, so I can visit if I ever come through your town!