Bookstores have been places of magic for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a town too tiny to have its own, so heading to the Barnes and Noble an hour away was a rare treat. I’d throw open its doors with the kind of excitement that other kids save for the gates of Disneyland and emerge hours later with as many books as I could carry. This kind of behavior is largely the fault of my parents. She’s a librarian; he’s a professor. Those bookstore trips weren’t just treats for me – they were a chance for the whole family to revel in its innate nerdiness.
The magic and the nerdiness combined in spectacular fashion at a few Harry Potter midnight release parties, thoughts of which still make me smile. They were inevitably followed the next day by a lavish celebration organized by my mother, then a children’s librarian at a fancy library in a much larger city. I would go as one of the Weasley twins, mum as McGonagall, and dad as an eerily credible Gilderoy Lockhart. Chances are that none of us had managed to get much sleep the night before, busy as we were with our noses in the new book.
I’ve carried my love of books throughout my life, but only recently have I rediscovered the incomparable thrill of the bookstore. For many years, I bought all of my books online, seduced by low prices and the ability to always find exactly what I wanted. That was all very good, but it certainly wasn’t magical. It’s hard to stumble across a dusty old gem when you’re staring at a sterile screen. One forgets how to browse when any title imaginable is just a few clicks away.
Slowly, though, I’m remembering. Living in New York has allowed me to land where I always should have been: squarely in the corner of the old and yellowing independent bookstore and its many marvelous cobwebs. Mary Cate and I live just down the street from one of our favorites. Its floor-to-ceiling wooden cases teem with a riot of titles and authors on which the proprietors have had the good sense to give up trying to alphabetize. Many of the stacks are double-shelved – whole other rows are stuffed deep against the wall, lurking in the shadows and waiting to be discovered.
Our fondness for the place – we visit every few weeks and always emerge with a handful of titles that are equal parts unexpected and delightful – has rekindled that old magic for me. I’ve read more books this year than the past two combined, and I’m even more desperate now to write one of the lovely little buggers for myself. It’s also given us an idea, which you’ll be reading about for weeks to come. We’re drawing up a plan to visit the best independent bookstores in the city, and we’ll probably buy something from each one. We’ve always joked that we have more books in our apartment than square feet – now we’re ready to take on the whole building. Every so often, we’ll post pictures and musings as we snake our way through the city.
Join us, won’t you?