MADISON, NJ — For too many years I lived in towns that either were too small, too remote, or too whitebread, cookie-cutter suburban to boast an independent bookstore. I made a point to end this trend last year when I returned to my home state of New Jersey after a twenty-year absence. It was a matter of pride and a matter of prejudice.
Today’s snowy conditions, compounded by a mean case of the teleworker cabin fever blues, demanded a local downtown escape to feed the bibliomaniac in me. Make that two sojourns: (1) The Chatham Bookseller, a lovely used bookshop that has resided on Green Village Road for the last 40-some years; and (2) Dewey’s Comic City, a dynamic downtown store carrying much more than comics and located just a couple of blocks from Shanghai Jazz Restaurant & Bar, a music club that offers live jazz six nights a week(!), another factor in my decision to move to Madison.
The Chatham Bookseller has the sort of vintage feel that any respectable book junkie wants for his fix. The shelves are well organized and the books are in fine to adequate condition, with a wide assortment of categories, bindings and pricing.
TC Bookseller also is not without its cramped obstacle course of boxes and piles of books that demonstrate a vibrant churn of inventory. The shopkeeper is personable, knowledgeable, and appears intent on finding whatever it is his customer is seeking, a refreshing departure from the stereotypical, antiquarian bookshop crank/snob.
Moreover, TC Bookseller creates the retro-hip, urban ambience one expects (or at least hopes for) from a used bookshop 25 miles outside of mid-Manhattan, with book browsing-friendly background music from opera to jazz standards, all adding to its timeless appeal.
A few hundred paces across Main Street, Dewey’s Comic City has a completely different vibe from TCB, not necessarily inferior, just younger and more pop culture-oriented. From classic comic strip reprints to new graphic novels, Dewey’s offers a fresh variety of contemporary illustrators without forgetting to highlight small press titles, with a smattering of lesser known bohemian artists.
Simply put, Dewey’s is just the kind of store where you want to find your rebellious teenager hanging out on a Saturday afternoon. It’s not antiseptic, but rather has an alternative underground chic, with good lighting and a welcoming atmosphere for geeks and curiosity seekers alike.
I used to worry that maybe my book buying habit was out of control–even when I didn’t have the luxury of a nearby indie, I still found ways to spend plenty on books, but since becoming a publisher, I look at every minute spent surrounded by printed matter as an enriching experience. Perhaps not career-building, but soul-shaping, taste-affirming, and self-fulfilling. It reminds me how much I enjoy the world of books and forces me away from this isolated computer, to an interactive reality where books are not made, but are treasured and displayed in showrooms.
I support booksellers to feed my addiction, first and foremost, but I also do it because I fear their disappearance. I recall and miss the days of shopping at a local music store and discovering new artists by stumbling upon a record or CD or hearing what’s playing while I’m browsing the bins. Yes, I may be all about sampling free music on Spotify these days, but I don’t ever want to change my book-acquiring behavior. It makes me physically ill to think physical bookstores too will someday disappear. Perhaps it’s inevitable for them to kick the dustbin, but no matter how futile it sounds, I’ll continue hunting down local respites and buying books in droves, just to do my part in preserving this side of book paradise.
Here were today’s illuminating finds:
Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography, with an introduction by Thomas Hoving (Bulfinch, 1995)
Just Kids by Patti Smith (Ecco, 2010)
The Alligator Report by W.P. Kinsella (Coffee House Press, 1985)
Exile and the Kingdom by Albert Camus (First Vintage Edition, 1991; original edition: 1957, Knopf)
Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo (1994, Penguin; original edition: 1973, Houghton Mifflin)
Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, with art by Joseph Remnant and introduction by Alan Moore (Zip Comics/Top Shelf Productions, 2012)
Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (Norton, 2009)
R. Crumb: Conversations, edited by D.K. Holm (University Press of Mississippi, 2004)
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2012)