A random tote bag led me to my first independent bookstore visit. In Muffins, a quaint bagel and pastry shop on the Upper West Side, I spotted an intellectual-looking fellow* with a Book Culture bag. Thanks to the iPhone and Google Maps, I found my way to BookCulture near Columbia University.
It’s independent (though now with another, more average-Joe-friendly location close by). Creaky wood floors, interesting selections of new books downstairs. I spent a good fifteen minutes looking through the recent release of Alfred Kazin’s Journals, edited by Richard M. Cook. Kazin was so terse and unexpectedly poetic. Events that I would normally associate with long reflection were remarkably (and, somehow, sadly) succinct:
Yet there were reflections on the city and on writing in general that didn’t need development or the kind of exposition that I tend to provide:
I left the book behind ($45 and choppily edited – no thanks), inspired to make my own journal entries more reflective, personal, and brief. No such luck. Yet.
Upstairs is more practical, more sparse. Used and new books are mixed together in sections organized by particular professors and their courses for the current semester at Columbia, but there were also sections organized by academic discipline.
I left with two used books, one with an appealing personal inscription written on the title page, giving the book its own history, and one a copy of John Donne’s poetry from 1950. It’s not a rare edition by any means, but it’s small and has the sense of being read often. And I’ve always loved Donne, so what’s the harm of another edition of poems I already own?
I enjoyed the store, but it’s by no means ideal. Because of the Columbia association, I felt like a bit of an outsider inside, particularly because of the distant staff. Must be that Ivy League affect (perhaps imagined by me). The search continues.
*You know the type: Conservative style with the slightest hint of dishevelment – an escaped curl, an almost-imperceptible wrinkle to an untucked shirt, elbow patches with a slight wear, a missed toggle button on the coat, a finger smudge on the glasses.