Monday, January 09, 2006


I am aggrieved to learn from Josh Corey that the Bookery II, one of the grand bookstores of Ithaca, is in the process of closing. I remember when it opened, way back in the day: the Bookery proper (which I gather is still going strong) was Ithaca’s best high-class used and rare bookstore (“high-class,” that is, in that it specialized in good-condition hardcovers, rather than the well-used softcovers one would find at the Blue Fox or the Phoenix), and it only seemed natural for the same folks to open a new bookstore. The Bookery II, when I shopped there, was a first-rate scholarly bookshop. Ithaca was a theory town, and the Bookery II was a theory shop. I still have the first round of Baudrillard’s American publications that I bought there, with the shop’s inventory information pencilled onto the flyleaves. (If you so desired, you could get your theory from the horse’s mouth, since the shop also carried a wide range of foreign language volumes.) The only thing the Bookery II lacked was a decent poetry section – and I gather Josh has had a lot to do with rectifying that lack over the past few years. The place will be missed.

Bookstores have been my second home for decades, at place after place:

•In Ithaca, the Bookery II and the wonderful Blue Fox, where it seemed that anything would turn up, if you visited enough times (and where I bought stacks and stacks of the old Ithaca House poetry publications for a song). And the vast, barn-like enclosure of the Phoenix, some miles away in a town called (wonderfully) Dryden.

•In the DC suburbs, a family-run series of second-hand shops called I think the Bookshelf, where grand books could be found for a song – a boxed edition of Heimito von Doderer’s The Demons for $5, for instance. I picked up signed hardcover editions of Reznikoff’s By the Waters of Manhattan and Holocaust there for $10 apiece. (Unsurprisingly, the chain went broke three or four years after I started patronizing them.)

•In DC itself, Bick’s Books in Adams-Morgan and Bridge Street Books in Georgetown, where Rod Smith made sure the poetry sections were second to none, and where he conducted first-rate reading series. And the vast labyrinths of the various branches of Second Story Books, which seemed to bring in scholary texts by the truckload on a daily basis.

I’ve been spoiled by the bookstores of Ithaca, Washington, and New York, and I think I know most of the decent bookshops on the trails I’ve habitually driven – the East Coast from DC to Florida, Florida thru Georgia to Tennessee, DC to Ithaca thru central Pennsylvania. One of the trials of South Florida is the real paucity of decent bookshops. Yes, there’s Books & Books in Coral Gables, which approaches being what in a large metropolis would be a middling bookstore, and there are a couple of decent second-hand places nearer at hand – here is Boca, a shop called Bookwise and in Ft. Lauderdale a dealer named Hittel – but it’s inescapable that there simply isn’t a book culture in this corner of the country, the sort of critical mass of readers and buyers who provide the market for good new bookshops and the materials for good second-hand ones.

Perhaps it’s just as well – one of last week’s projects was installing a new set of shelves in a downstairs hall closet in order to alleviate some of the untidy stacks that have been accumulating around the house. If I were left to my own devices – no voice of reason at my side, no children who need a bit of space of their own – I’d probably be putting shelving up on every wall of the house, and filling it. My conservative estimate of Guy Davenport’s book collection was somewhere between 15 and 20 thousand volumes. There were cases from floor to ceiling in most rooms of his house (exceptions: the kitchens, the bathroom, & the one bedroom he used as a studio), and several of his closets were stacked from floor to ceiling with things he didn’t immediately need (e.g.: one closet absolutely full of mass market mysteries). Guy once told me he received an average of a book a day – review copies, gifts, various things over the transom – and I don’t believe he ever disposed of any book, aside from those paperback “bound proofs” he had used in reviewing things. He cancelled his subscription to the Library of America when he no longer had any place to shelve the books. Visiting his place was rather like being a six-year-old in a candyshop.

One colleague of mine calls it fetishism, and of course he’s right. But there’s fetishes and fetishes, hobby-horses and hobby-horses. Perhaps I should have been a librarian.
Our “cold snap” (for those of you in climates with real weather, that means lows in the 40s) seems to have passed, so now I get to nurse my cold by basking in a 75-degree sun. Sometimes life is hard.
New poems here.

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