I just heard the news that Politics and Prose Bookstore and Coffeeshop is for sale. I’ve never been inside the store, but I’ve seen a few store events courtesy of C-SPAN and I know the reputation that the store has in the book business. If I had a list of bookstores to visit before I die, Politics and Prose would certainly be on the list. I could never afford to buy the store, but a guy could dream…
I’ve been going to bookstores for nearly 50 years. I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan. The town didn’t have a bookstore, but it did have a newsstand, Payn’s News. I can recall visiting as a child. Payn’s had a creaky wooden floor. It sold newspapers, magazines, crossword puzzles, cigars, and bubble gum as well as the latest paperbacks (which it stocked in spinner racks).
We moved to Detroit when I was seven. That’s when I discovered the book department at J.L. Hudson’s at the Eastland Mall. A trip to the mall always meant a stop at Hudson’s. Later on, B. Dalton’s Bookseller opened a store in the mall. I have vivid memories of going to the mall with my sisters. I was incapable of going to the mall and NOT visiting B. Dalton. They, on the other hand, could never pass up the chance to go to Musicland.
Growing up, my family always spent our vacation time visiting relatives in northern Michigan. We often stopped to visit my mother’s side of the family and get gas at my Uncle Willy’s hardware store. In addition to gas and hardwares, Willy also had a couple racks of paperback books. I remember finding a cool book about motorcycles and bears and youthful rebellion called Setting Free the Bears by some writer named John Irving. I wonder whatever happened to him.
You never know when or where you’re going to discover a new writer. I stumbled upon Thomas Pynchon’s, Gravity’s Rainbow in a drugstore called Family Drug. I remember being mesmerized by Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino at J.L. Hudson’s and buying it without ever looking inside the book – a wise investment it turned out. I can recall buying Catcher in the Rye (with it’s all-type, red cover) at a Dalton’s in Detroit and a tiny, little spitfire of a book called Fup at Dalton’s when I moved to San Francisco. That same year, I bought my favorite book, Winesburg, Ohio at Tro Harper’s on Mason Street.
I’ve worked in bookstores, managed a few, and briefly owned one in the early-90’s. It saddens me to see so many fine bookstores disappearing. What kind of memories will today’s book buyer’s have? Buying a copy of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory along with a five-gallon tub of peanut butter? Purchasing a Twilight t-shirt at Walmart to wear while watching the Vook on your iPad? I know, I’m sounding old and cranky, but I truly feel sorry for kids who will grow up never knowing the joy of spending an afternoon lost in the wonders of a bookstore.
Someone with a lot of money will buy Politics and Prose. In addition to money, I hope they have a sense of what a bookstore means to a community. I hope the store thrives so a new generation can create its own bookstore memories.
I’ve visited a lot of good bookstores over the years. A number of them have closed, but I will always remember the joy I felt browsing the stacks. Thank you Cody’s Books, A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, Holmes Book Company, Antideluvian, Solar Lights, Upstart & Crow, Tro Harper, Charlotte Newbegin’s Tillman Place Bookshop, Richard Hilkert’s, Duthie’s, Printer’s Ink, Penguin Bookshop, Stacey’s, Dutton’s, Ruminator, and Harry W. Schwartz. You won’t be forgotten.
Do you have a favorite bookstore memory to share? I’d love to hear from you.