Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

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.

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