I go to my favorite bookstore, Newtonville Books, all the time. Mary Cotton, the owner and the guru of book suggestions, always greets me so warmly, as she does all of her customers. Mary is the bookstore host par excellence: open, funny, smart, and, along with her staff, ridiculously conversant on any number of current and not-so-current literature.
Newtonville Books provides deep access to disparate genres. You can find titles on everything from young adult literature, to bios, to mysteries and speculative fiction, to a fabulous array of history, to, well… go see how widely their stock stretches.
In addition to all the practical reasons I enjoy shopping at Newtonville Books, there’s a vast collection of tchotchkes: t-shirts, pens, coffee mugs, Moleskine notebooks, magnets, and other goodies that are simply irresistible to booklovers. The ambiance is so strikingly familiar and comforting. It’s the smell of new books, a combination of ink and glue and paper. It’s the feel of a new paperback. Speaking of which… some years ago they changed the kind of paper finish on paperback book covers. Instead of the smooth, glossy feeling, it is now more of a matte finish, a thicker feel to the touch that some describe as rubbery.
I had been imagining that this book cover issue was in my head. But as it turns out, it’s a thing! This is actually a real subject of conversation.
The fact is that I love the heft of a book. It’s reassuring to pick it up, to absorb its weight in my hands. Of course, books can be a pain to read while you’re sitting in a restaurant, trying to keep it open without putting one’s oily fingers on the pages. And when you’re traveling, a hardcover can really add weight to the carry-on.
And yet, though I read the Times and the Globe and the New Yorker and Atlantic online, I prefer my literature on paper. It’s not rational. It’s a throwback to what it felt like to own a book and then slowly fill a bookshelf and then a bookcase and then a floor to ceiling installation. It’s a feeling of knowledge and dynamism I get with a book in my hands.
What are you reading now? Right now I’m into Ruth Ben Ghiat’s Strongmen, a sobering analysis of authoritarian political leaders, from Mussolini to Trump. It’s a cautionary history. I’ve also just started The Immortal King Rao, by Vauhini Vara, a dystopian novel that sounds remarkably prescient. Talking books is so satisfying.
I admit it: I’ve ordered a lot of books through Amazon. It’s so easy and so addictive, and the discount is welcome. And I am not anti-Amazon, though I’m told I should be. I wish Jeff Bezos no ill-will. But I do wish Mary Cotton and Newtonville Books continued success. I am pledging to order my books from them from now on. Because, in a world that has so many sharp edges and anguish, it’s nice to duck into a local bookstore to browse, touch covers, find some peace, and smell the sweet aroma of the written word.