The shop is on Main Street, which isn’t really main at all anymore.
Inside, the place inspired both awe and a vague sort of horror.
The owner, Wayne, stands at the front of the store surrounded by heaps of books that are stacked haphazard around his knees. He stays there, behind his ancient desk, looking like a prisoner of literature. He seems content enough, though, as he hollers out a conversation with another customer. Yelling that French Canadian Hockey Players are the best in the world and how Don Cherry taught him to watch TV with the sound off.
I tune him out and venture deeper into the place. It seems to go on forever. Room after room of yellowing books stacked as high as the ceiling. Boxes of unsorted books trip me and grab at my pant leg. I can’t seem to find the back of the store, the last room. For a surreal moment I feel like the star of a BBC children’s special; Bonnie and the Book Store, and I wonder if I will find a magical portal, or a talking dog, or a secret door that leads to outer space.
Rambling, ramshackle shelves stacked upon even more decaying shelves. Shelves that defy gravity. At one point I move my young daughter away from a wall because I can see with perfect clarity what it will look like when the whole thing just gives way. All the shelves are like this. Lilting to one side or the other; dilapidated, frightening.
It feels as if it has been here forever, as if it had sprung from the ground at the time of creation from some bad seed left to sprout on the wrong side of the gates of Eden. But I hear Wayne holler from the front, as if reading my mind, but I know he’s talking to someone up there, he says, “I’ve been here since 1991. . .” I don’t catch the rest, and I don’t mind. Seventeen years. Not all that long when you consider the depth, the breath of the place. The sheer mass.
I peruse the titles. Everywhere I look I see gems like The 1978 Art & Craft Market. Surely someone, somewhere is in need of the answers found in this book. I picture some desperate woman draped in a brown macramé vest with matching hat throwing herself on the mercy of Wayne, “Please! I need to find a place to sell my knick knacks! My home is over run! My husband is threatening divorce!” And Wayne will give her a calm assuring nod and motion her to follow him.
I found The New Sexuality (published in 1972. Does that make it the old sexuality?) in the sociology section. Judy Blume’s novel Smart Women nuzzled against a hard cover edition of Curing Fatigue.
Around another corner, through yet another doorway, I find a puzzling (and tiny) section with the mysterious distinction of “Women Novelists”. As if Wayne considered all the female writers in the fiction section merely girls. Doris Lessing made the cut, as did Daphne de Maurier. Janet Dailey did not.
I make my way to the front of the store, happy to see it again, happy to know it’s still there, that there’s an exit. But before I go, I plunk down two books and hand Wayne cash money for them. Two gems, real ones that, when I spotted them, made me grab them fast, like at a Boxing Day sale at Bloomingdales. One, a hard bound beauty, a piece of Americana that even a Canadian like me cannot help but cherish; a 1957 pressing of Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things. Illustrated by Charles Shultz, forward by Walt Disney. And the other was a book I’ve been searching for nearly 20 years; Book 3 of The Book of Lists.
I left that place with a smile on my face. And I knew I’d be back. Because, no matter the place, no matter the mess, no matter the bad service, no matter the perilous placement, books, good books, great books, are always worth the effort.