designed by Warren Chappell
What a delight I had reading it! Here, written decades before I was born, was the exact defintion of the experience I had when entering the domain of books. A meeting of mind and spirit that is hard to describe and harder for others to understand. An early practioner of bibliotherapy, ( Bibliotherapy is an old concept in the field of library science. The ancient Greeks maintained that literature was psychologically and spiritually important, posting a sign above their library doors describing itself as a "healing place for the soul") the colorful bookseller operates by the maxim -"we have what you need, though you may not know you need it." The shop of the book is housed in a brownstone in a New York of long ago. "The shop had a warm and comfortable obscurity, a kind of drowsy dusk, stabbed here and there by bright cones of yellow light from green shaded electrics. There was an all-persausive drift of tobacco smoke, which eddied and fumed under the glass lamp shades..."
|Art by Douglas Gorsline.|
The bookseller, in describing to a young visitor why he does not advertize: "I am not a dealer in merchandise but a specialist in adjusting the book to the human need. Between ourselves, there is no such thing , abstractly, as a "good book". A book is 'good' only when it meets some human hunger or refutes some human error. A book that is good for me would very likely be punk for you. My pleasure is to prescribe books for such patients as drop in here and are willing to tell me their symptoms. Some people have let their reading faculties decay so that all I can do is hold a post mortem on them. Most are still open to treatment. There no one so grateful as the man to whom you have given just the book his soul needed and he never knew it. No advertisement on earth is as potent as a grateful customer."
About the books? "There are only about 30,000 really important books in the world. I suppose about 5,000 of them were written in the English language and 5,000 more have been translated."
"Living in a bookshop is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world - the brains of men. I can spend a rainy afternoon reading, and my mind works itself up to such a passionand anxiety over mortal problems as almost unmans me. It is terribly nerve-rcking. Surround a man with Carlyle, Emerson, Thoreau, Chesterton, Shaw, Nietzsche and George Ade - would you wonder at his getting excited?..." (pg. 26)
"The life of a bookseller is a very demoralizing to the intellect...He is surrounded by inumerable books; he cannot possibly read them all; he dips into one and picks up a scrap from another. His mind gradually fills itself with misellaneous flotsam, with superficial opinions with a thousand half-knowledges. Almost unconsciously he begins to rate literature according to what people ask for. .."
|1st edition cover|
The book is at its most brilliant as it discourses on books and bookshops, to keep other readers engaged it has a mystery, some romance and a dashing younger lead character. In truth, though, it is the book seller who is and remains the most dynamic character of all.
Image how wonderful it would be if libraries today focused as much on making their spaces 'haunted'? If once more people, as they entered those doors, were beset with a realization that there were spirits walking around and somewhere there was a book to feed not just the mind but to enthuse the spirit and guide the heart through life?