Late this morning, I spent a rewarding hour inside Kramerbooks, an independent bookstore just off Dupont Circle. It became a favorite place of mine when I lived in DC over two decades ago. Even if I’m not in a book-buying mood, I always browse in Kramer’s when I’m in DC and have the time.
As it happened, I did buy a couple of titles as Christmas presents, books I had never seen anywhere before. I only stopped myself from buying more because my small carry-on bag was full. But even if I had found nothing, it still would have been a blissful way to spend an hour. A couple of years ago, my bibliophile daughter Nora, standing at the railing looking out over the first floor of our local Barnes & Noble, said, “Dad, it feels so comfortable here, around all these books.” Yes, it does. It always does.
This morning’s diversion reminded me to post this lovely NYT piece in which the paper asks seven writers around the world to say a few words about their favorite bookstore. Here’s the entry from Pamela Paul, who edits the Times book review:
Just walking into Hatchards, London’s oldest bookseller and “by appointment royal booksellers to Her Majesty the Queen,” feels like a privilege. Situated off Piccadilly Circus, Hatchards offers a refuge from the hubbub of commercial London, even though it’s now owned by the megachain Waterstones.
Though the store has been remodeled several times, it retains an Old World feel and a determinedly British cast, with wooden banistered staircases and a carpet bearing the design of a book spine published by Hatchards in the Victorian era. Walls display quotes such as this one, from Kingsley Amis: “If you can’t annoy somebody with what you write, I think there’s little point in writing.” Not surprisingly, writers adore Hatchards, with John le Carré, Ruth Rendell and Antonia Fraser among its loyal fans.
Yes, Hatchards has an unabashedly clubby feel, but it’s one that recognizes all readers as members. Everyone here is a book person, from the cashiers to the floor managers, and the displays feel especially welcoming to bookish types. Themed tables are labeled by quotes rather than categories. A table on contemporary politics, for example, bears a quote from Lord Acton: “History is not a burden on the memory, but an illumination of the soul.”
The stock is at once comprehensive and well curated. Primacy of place goes to books by and about lords and dames of English letters such as Winston Churchill, George Orwell and Muriel Spark. One table offers books purely on birding. In Britain, publishers are more widely recognized for their taste and style, and Hatchards allows this to shine through with tables displaying an entire season from the tiny Pushkin Press, “Frightfully Fabulous Fabers” and the full Penguin Books Great Ideas series.
This may make the atmosphere sound snooty; it’s not. A lively table is dedicated to drinking, and the crime selection is vast; one display label reads “In the library, with the revolver.” P.G. Wodehouse gets his own shelf, as does Roald Dahl. The children’s section is a happy place complete with stuffed Gruffalos and pages from The Daily Prophet. One is grateful to be let in and to feel at home.
Next time I’m in London, I know where I’m headed. Read the entire piece.
Longtime readers know that my favorite bookstore in all the world is Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about it last year:
It’s hard to convey what an amazing bookstore this is. Imagine that Tolkien and Lewis were curating the place, with the Orthodox Philip Sherrard twisting their arms — hard. James K.A. Smith and I stood next to each other by a shelf tonight just marveling that such a place even exists in this fallen world. This whole underground Christian scene in Wichita, composed of alt-Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelicals, seems to be centered around this bookstore and The Ladder next door. And I was thinking man, what I wouldn’t give for a place like this where I live. I’m seriously thinking about roadtripping to Wichita with the family this summer just to hang with these great people and be in the orbit of Eighth Day Books.
I’m just the kind of person who gets that excited about a bookstore, is all. But damn, what Warren Farha has created here is a great American institution. I’m serious about that. This is what book lovers hope that all bookstores will be like: eclectic, idiosyncratic, and radiant with the conviction that the people who own this thing have a vision that was not decided by algorithms from corporate headquarters.
I hope you’re planning to go to the Eighth Day Institute symposium from January 12-14, 2017, in Wichita. If you’re not yet decided, let me sweeten the pot by telling you that Eighth Day Books is a destination not to be missed. Bring an extra bag for all the books you’ll be bringing home. I’m serious.
Readers, I invite you to share your thoughts about your favorite bookstore.