All bookstores, whether they sell volumes new, rare, used, old, specialty, or combinations thereof, have their own persona. It’s made up of the actual physical building and its contents, the smell and atmosphere that come from ink on pages both new and aging and from the attitudes of the owner and employees— the spirit of the place, in a word. In each case, it’s a peculiar identity— as in something characteristic of one specific person or place but also with a tinge of the word’s secondary meaning of odd, funky, quirky, or queer.
Yet despite individual dissimilarities, bookstores are alike in more ways than they’re different. You have to wonder if author Terry Pratchett isn’t right when he states in his Discworld fantasy novels that all libraries everywhere, in reality and imagination, lead into one another, and all you have to do is know where to turn as you make your way deeper into the dusk. And since bookstores are just around the corner— in concept— from libraries, there you are. Four aisles over and two down, clap the heels of your ruby slippers together, and you’re at Powell’s in Portland, Sam Weller in Salt Lake City, Argosy in New York, or Shakespeare and Company in Paris.
Until we figure out how to get there from here, Gibbs Smith’s The Art of the Bookstore offers a comfortable alternative. Published by the author and painter’s self-titled printing house, the book provides his comments on, and paintings of, 58 noted American bookstores in situ. It’s a booklover’s book.
Two Santa Fe establishments are included: Garcia Street Books and CollectedWorks Bookstore (depicted in its former location onWest San Francisco Street). The only quarrel with Smith on his descriptive text is that CollectedWorks is the oldest independent bookstore in Santa Fe that sells new titles, not the oldest independent bookstore. Nicholas Potter Bookseller goes back a generation and a half, to when Nick’s dad ran the place. That aside, this is a leisurely, delightful page-turner.