Monday, November 28, 2011

Vignette: Feldman Books

On a busy street in the pretty town of Menlo Park sits an old bookstore, the kind you hope will stay in business with all those major bookstore chains bulldozing in and out of our cities. I have nothing much against the big chains except for their promises of low prices, now unable to fulfill such claims with online shopping so accessible for book buyers.  Amazon and Alibris and a host of other e-bookshops have made big chains unimportant.  But, back to a little town and it's treasures.

     The sunny town of Menlo Park boasts some really lovely shops, some extraordinarily expensive charity shops with real fur coats in them, boutiques with outrageously decadent gifts for the very wealthy, and little places to eat in many convenient locations.

     So, here I am.  It's May, I'm turning thirty, and I'm spending the day out by myself while my husband takes a class towards his master's degree.  The day is a gift from my husband and I am happy, blissfully aware that I don't have to worry about bored kids or an impatient spouse, and I opt for a stroll.  Then just a block or two from our parked car I find it. Feldman Books.  The front isn't anything to write home about. It's an old building with a little wooden door and two big picture windows piled with books but I get a little thrill that goes right down to my fingertips.  My family is a book family and we prize bookstores that look like this, unsure of what treasures we'll find inside but certain there will be something worth getting.  Outside as I stand on the street there is the noise of passing vehicles but inside is cool and dark with the pervasive smell of must and leather that goes hand in hand with books.  My sister and I found a bookstore like this in London.  You don't know where the back is.  You don't know where the little passageways lead.  You wander, looking for genres you can sink your teeth into.
     I push the door open with a thunk and head towards the back of the shop after questioning the clerk as to where the mystery and science fiction books dwell.  The back room was not originally part of the store.  It was a building behind the bookstore with a small sort of furtive garden in between.  There is a ramp that goes from door to door as if to warn you not to stray off the path and visit the plants but rather keep to your agenda and get to the books.  The back room had lower ceilings and less beauty in the bindings but I am immediately happy.  I find that comics are also in this space and I can look up Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett, or Herge without missing a beat. After scanning the various paperback racks and pulling out a half dozen books I want to add to my collection, I head back to the main building and look for the children's section.  I've disciplined myself not to start there as I won't be able to leave if I do.
    The children's section in an old bookstore like Feldman's is always something special.  I've always loved childrens books and areas dedicated to this genre pull me in.  Not to be found are the newest additions, the myriad of toys to make up for the fact that there aren't that many books, or the series of books churned out by giant companies with little thought to illustration, plot, or general quality.  Here are the old classics joined by books from the twenties through the fifties with pictures and titles unknown to me.  I scan for the titles I love but cannot find in new bookstores.  Gold mine! Here is a copy of The Rainbow Goblins for eight dollars.  It costs twenty dollars in our "used" bookstore in my town.  Someone thoughtfully placed a low stool in the room and I unashamedly slog my pile of books down and start reading titles.  On one shelf I find a set of Nancy Drews with remarkable covers from the sixties.  The Sign Of The Twisted of my favorites.  I grin at the discovery of How Fletcher Was Hatched in hardback with a linen cover.  I make sure there aren't any beautiful versions of classics like Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia that I can't live without before switching over to paperbacks.  I don't mind paperbacks but I prefer hardbacks if only for their beauty.  Success! A copy of Trina Schart Hyman's Rapunzel. I didn't have that one. Only after I get past that uncomfortable amount of money where I start to wonder if I should put things back do I get up and regretfully head out the door with my purchases.

I'm happy with what I'm adding to my collection but I'm secretly aware that what I really want is a bookstore of my own where all the books are beautiful and all of them are mine.  I want soft leather chairs you can sink into, low yellow lighting that warms the pages as you turn them, a bookstore cat that won't sit on your lap but makes everything a little more homey, the promise of a good cup of hot chocolate from a coffee shop nearby, and the quiet dense feel of living in a bookshop.  All your friends are here.  Prince Andre is having tea with Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Frog and Toad have taken down the cookie jar and are giving cookies to all the waterbabies.  Miss Elizabeth Bennett is in an earnest discussion with Andre-Louis Moreau and Mr. Psmith is dueling with Captain Hook and winning without looking.  He's more interested in the chess set that Mr. Holmes and Mr. Poirot are playing.  I don't know whose winning but Poirot's eyes are very green.
So until I live in my bookstore I'll say good night dear readers.  Pull out your favorite books.  Add to your library every year.  Instill in your children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews a love for books and a respect for the written word.  That is all.

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