Sunday, March 26, 2017

"Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores," by Bob Eckstein

A package arrived in the mail, and when opened, turned out to contain a beautiful book full of photos of bookstores. What bounty! My friend F. had seen it and thought it would be perfect for me, and she was right. The book is “Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers” (Clarkston Potter Publishers, 2016) by Bob Eckstein, with a foreword by Garrison Keillor, a bookstore owner himself. In his introduction, Eckstein tells us that he chose the bookstores “based on recommendations, word of mouth, social history, and contributions to the locale,” and then gathered stories from the shops. He started with a list of 150 bookstores from all over the world, and eventually narrowed the list to 75. He praises bookstores not only for the great gifts of the books themselves, but also for bookstores' roles as “a hangout, a place of solace, a community center, and a venue for cultural entertainment.” He concludes his introduction by saying that the book “is intended to be a celebration of independent bookstores everywhere and for all those who love books.” The format of the book gives each bookstore a two-page spread. On the left side is the name of the bookstore, its location, how long it has been (or was, if now closed) open, and a brief description. On the right side is a charming illustration in color (all illustrations are by Eckstein), capturing the look and feel and personality of the store, along with a hand-lettered sentence or two related to that bookstore. Some of the sentences are quotations from the bookstore owners, others are quotes from customers, and others are interesting facts or comments about the store. The book is handsomely produced, nine inches wide and seven inches high, with a sturdy hard cover and thick, coated pages that display the illustrations at their best. The bookstores are located in such widespread spots as Portugal, Scotland, and India; however, most of them are in the United States, with a very large contingent from New York City, where the author/illustrator lives. Of course I immediately looked to see if any of my own favorite bookstores were listed, and sure enough I found a few, including, right here in the San Francisco Bay Area, City Lights in North Beach and Moe’s Books in Berkeley. Favorites in other places I have traveled include The Golden Notebook (in Woodstock, New York) which I visited just two years ago on a short trip to the Hudson Valley; Rizzoli Bookstore (in New York City) (those art books!); the Strand Bookstore (in New York City), which I fell in love with when my late dear friend and fellow book-lover C., then a resident of New York City, took me there many, many years ago; Shakespeare and Company (in Paris), to which just about every literature-struck young person visiting Europe makes a pilgrimage, and which I vividly remember these decades after my first visit there; Powell’s Books (in Portland, Oregon); and Elliott Bay Book Company (in Seattle). Leafing through this book and enjoying the illustrations and comments, I am reminded of a dream I have occasionally had of planning a trip based on visits to some of the best, most interesting, most historical, and/or most quirky bookstores I know of. Maybe I will really do it one of these days or years! Meanwhile, I almost always seek out bookstores wherever I happen to travel.
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