The heroine of Sigrid Nunez’s novel The Last of Her Kind describes a daydream that I also have from time to time.
“All my life, though, among my daydreams about careers that might have made me happy, has been this one: a small shop somewhere, some partner and I buying and selling used books.”
What booklover has not had such a dream? There are some who try to make that dream come alive. My mother was such a person. She cherished books, had always been a reader, and relatively late in her life decided to express her love of books by starting a bookstore.
That was in 1973, in the days when people still read books and when there was still a place in any community for a small, independent bookstore. The store was located in a growing, largely student, neighborhood adjacent to Santa Barbara branch of the University of California. She called the store The Running Brook:
Find tongues in trees,
Books in the running brook,
Sermons in stones and
Good in everything
As You Like It
She created a warm and inviting store that was much too lavish for the community of nearby students. The bookshelves were made of handsome wood finishing, the walls were adorned with attractive paintings, and comfortable armchairs were placed throughout the store. She was really far more interested in poetry readings, book discussions, and chess matches than selling books.
In a newspaper article on the store it was reported that she graced the store with her two kittens that delighted in climbing over prospective buyers. And in discussing her plans for recycling books she is quoted as saying, “When the person is finished with the book and no longer has a use for it, he should bring it in so that others might also derive enjoyment from it.”
In time The Running Brook became too much for her to mange and was no doubt loosing a fair amount of money. She closed the bookstore two years after it opened. I am sure it was some relief, rather than regret. She had done it, done something she had dreamed about for years, and she had done it well and beautifully and with love.
I can easily imagine a life living in the company of books, a company devoted to the buying and selling of books, an inviting bookstore. I have a poster on the wall of the room where I keep my books from a company like this in Cannon Beach, Oregon. It was given to me by a very kind calligrapher and reads:
The proper study of mankind is books
Books we must have though we lack bread.
The true university of these days is a collection of books.
No furniture is so charming as books
Books are often wider than the readers.
Beware the man of one book.
A man who can read books and does not, has no advantage over a man who cannot read.
All the glory of the world would be lost in oblivion unless God had provided mortals with the remedy of books.
Wear the old coat and buy the new book