The Life Of Bookshops

They’re about to hold a celebration of bookshops in England that will last through early August.  To mark the occasion, Carol Ann Duffy and other authors have penned a few poems in praise of bookshops themselves, samples of which may be read in the article.

“Silver Moon,” by Jackie Kay, seems to me to strike the right notes.  Clive James’s “Apotheosis At The Signing Table” is a bit middle-aged grumpy for my taste (he doesn’t have to do book-signings, you know), but it takes a sweetly-melancholic turn at the end.

I think, however, that we’ve yet to read the poem about the life of bookshops–the one that captures the atmosphere of the place, how it sustained us by its warmth, its coziness, and the quality of the books on its shelves.  We’ve yet to read a poem that reminds us of how its many volumes have helped us take the measure of the work we might do, and how, leafing through all those pages, hour by hour, as young writers, we unleashed every one of the dreams we really care about in the old, beat up chair, in a tiny corner of the place that belonged only to us.  That poem has yet to be written.

On the other hand, that poem gets written every day.  We can see it taking shape in the constant, regular strophes of books gently removed and handed to the clerks for purchase; we can feel it in the caesuras of our dear friends as they pause to think of the book that might answer our question or serve as the perfect gift; we can see it in the displays of books, set out as sweetly as a pentameter line or as boldly as one of HD’s images–all of which are begging to be bought.  The truth is, we will buy them, too.  We will buy them because we remember the days when books were more important than food, when books were food.  We will buy them because what was true in our youth is still true.  We will buy them because we wish to sustain the place as it sustained us.  We will buy them knowing that we have contributed a line to that poem–maybe through our love of mysteries, or of history, or of romance–but that the last lines will be written by those who come after us, generations hence,  a man or woman making a final purchase, and turning to watch the owner, the author of the place, close the doors a last time, quietly and gracefully, and lock them in place, like a perfect couplet.

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