I recently purchased a hardcover version of God: A Biography by Jack Miles at Strand. When I got it home, a credit card receipt fell out indicating that someone had bought it shortly after it was published in 1995, paying list price of $27.50 (not an inconsiderable amount for a book two decades ago) at a book shop in Pasadena, California. I wondered how the book had made its way from Pasadena to Manhattan’s Broadway, but, of course, had no clue. I found signs in the book of a careful and interested reader. Numerous penciled underlinings and check marks were on every page, but they stopped mid-chapter on page fifty-eight. Why did the attentive reader stop at this point? I could imagine answers, but I will never really know.
I also bought at Strand Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon. It was a first edition, quite worn, from Great Britain. Inscribed inside was what I took to be the first owner of the book. The handwriting was artistic, but I could not decipher it. Who was that person? On the inside back cover was something perhaps even more intriguing—faint writing. The spouse looked at it and said, “It might say Siegfried Sassoon.” I looked at it again. It was possible. Was I holding a book once signed by Sassoon? If so, the original owner became even more intriguing, but it will all remain an unsolved mystery.
The third book I recently bought at Unnameable brought back memories and presented mysteries. The first page of Fat of the Land: Garbage in New York the Last Two Hundred Years, published in 2000, had a stamp that it was placed in the Manitowoc, Wisconsin, public library on February 15, 2001. Seeing “Manitowoc” brought back memories. You might not be very familiar with this small city, but it was the next town north of where I grew up. I still have memories as a child of visiting a submarine there. You might not know that submarines were built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, but they were—you can look it up. Manitowoc also held another memory. It was the place where I scored the most points for me in my undistinguished high school basketball career.
The book, however, brought not just memories but also mysteries. I could imagine why the book had been withdrawn from the Manitowoc Public Library—no one was checking it out—but why had it been purchased? Was there a suspected strong interest in the history of New York City’s garbage in this small town on Lake Michigan? And how did this book get from Manitowoc to Brooklyn’s Vanderbilt Avenue?
I do shop at a number of different bookstores, but mostly my bookstore heart now belongs to Greenlight. I thought that it made no sense that two people opened a bookstore in my neighborhood in what had once been an antiques store. I had read those stories about the deaths of independent bookstores, and my neighborhood was an obscure part of Brooklyn where few outsiders would breeze into the store, so opening this new bookstore seemed, to put it charitably, unwise.
I went into it shortly after it opened, and my first reaction was that it was too small. I thought it unlikely that I would find many books I wanted to purchase there, and at its beginning, I did not patronize Greenlight much. However, I had a tradition of reading the New York Times’ best books of the year list, finding selections for Christmas gifts, and heading off to a Barnes & Noble megastore to make the purchases. One year the daughter suggested that I buy locally and get them at Greenlight even if the local place did not offer the same discounts as the chain store, and for several years, I did buy the Christmas books there, but little else.
Over time, however, when I wanted a particular book, I would check out the convenient Greenlight before seeking another bookstore. Greenlight may have looked small, but now I realized that it had a surprising number of books that I sought. I became further impressed by the array of authors it had speaking at the store. And finally, much later than I should have, I found it was a wonderful store for browsing, that crucial factor for a great bookstore. Three or four tables in the center of the store are topped with a carefully arranged set of books, and almost all of them look interesting to me. Now almost every time I go by the store, which can be several times a week, I stop in to browse, and this browsing has led to many purchases. It is a remarkable store, and I am lucky to have Greenlight a five-minute walk from my house. It is in the neighborhood and an impressive store. Who could ask for anything more?
I hope that you, too, can find such a good bookstore.