Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Adventures in a Labyrinth of Books

Book stores rank highly among my favorite places. And not just any book stores. I'm drawn with moth-like interest (some would say unhealthy interest) to book stores that are vast compendiums of adventure and knowledge squished together and crammed unceremoniously into a rather small space, then sorted with diligence during the night by book gnomes (which, thankfully, eat bookworms, else we would lose all our copies of Mortimer Watsonwrickle's Exhaustive List of Nasal Allergies, which is a riveting read). Those people you see behind the counter, wearing sandals and thick framed glasses and riding bikes and taking public transportation, they're only for show! The gnomes do all the hardest work - but they'd never tell you that. It's not for us mere humans to know, so keep it between you and me.

After spending a great deal of my valuable time today sitting and thinking of what book shops are my favorites, I have narrowed the list to two: The Book Eddy and Red House. Red House Books squats unassumingly in the shade of a few deciduous trees in Dothan, Alabama. It is, as you might suppose, a red house. But when you walk in, you are greeted with the sight of shelves of tomes reaching from floor to ceiling, directly in front of you. How can someone actually accomplish the sorting of all this?! you wonder to yourself. The answer is, they didn't. It's the book gnomes.

Then, you turn a corner and begin to wander through what used to be someone's living room. If you happen to meet someone else in the aisle, one of you is going to have to turn back. And if you're a stupendously wide person, you dare not come at all, for fear that you'll never leave. You will make it past the classics and through a doorway into the children's section, where the shelves do not go all the way to the ceiling, but the walls still do. Ahh, you think. This is tamer. I can feel in control here. But be not deceived, my unsuspecting fellow bibliophile. As you turn left, you will find yourself assaulted on all sides by a vast array of history, poetry, nonsense, adventure, theology, some more nonsense, romance, romantic adventure, more classics, classical poetry, poetic theology, and some more surreptitiously placed nonsense. If you look hard, you'll also find self-help books, but most good book stores do not stock these. Heavens! At this rate, you'll be lucky to find your way out of Red House without slaying a dragon or sailing a ship or walking amongst strange outlandish creatures the likes of which you've never seen.

Then there's The Book Eddy. True to its name, it is where the swirls of literary motion collect behind a stone as Knoxville's collective library tumbles from its hands. Typewriters perch in the window and stare curiously at you from under their paper-roller brows. A black cat wanders the aisles and purrs about your feet. You feel that you have walked into someone's subconscious. Perhaps that of an eccentric history professor. To your right, shelves of books extend as far as the eye can detect. I still haven't been to either end of that store. To the left, past the desk, you walk through a small doorway that seems to have been made for a hobbit. Through it, you find more books, but the tone of the setting has now taken a strange turn. Sure enough, you reach a little alcove, filled to the brim with boxes upon crates upon stacks and stacks of LPs. Dating back to when LPs began to be important, they stand there waiting to be purchased for a few bucks and a history lesson.

And then, there's Books & Crannies, but that's an invention not my own, and you'll have to wait a little while to find out about that one. Specifically, until St. Patrick's Day. Meanwhile, what's your favorite bookstore?


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