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A Perfect Bookstore

I don’t know if a Platonic ideal of bookstore exists. Maybe one’s tastes are shaped, as with food or love, by first experience. Whatever the case, my original bookstore is my favorite: Lippincott Books, which I first browsed more than twenty years ago, and which will close this month.

Lippincott doesn’t overwhelm, like book barns with acres of indiscriminate titles and foot-aching aisles. Neither is it so small that one risks leaving empty-handed. Its proportions are just right; most any topic merits at least one shelf, enough to satisfy a curiosity or spark another.

The shelves themselves are almost tall enough to be perilous, tops reached by milk crate and tiptoe,  and usually overflowing just a bit. They’re so arranged that, once past the store’s front, each section feels private; two or three people might fit, but the unspoken browser’s code is honored. Comradeship is reserved for friends and books, and it’s natural to think of Lippincott’s books in personable terms.

Bill Lippincott, the eponymous proprietor — silver hair, soft-spoken, twinkling eyes — is a  connoisseur of common and rare alike, a hunter of bequeathed collections and library discards. The result is a smartly curated hodgepodge of old and new, esoteric and classic, highbrow and low, the rainy-day library of a children’s book favorite uncle.

My own final forays returned, among other titles, two books on fly-tying; the Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking; short stories by Annie Proulx; instructives on rock gardening, bird feeding and outwitting squirrels; a biography of Meriweather Lewis; several immense natural history tomes; poetry from Seamus Heaney, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Ted Hughes; a collection of regional U.S. folklore, and another of narratives from women captured by Indians; Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus; a P.D. James mystery. At present rates of distraction, I’ll be lucky to finish them in a decade, but completion isn’t the only point. An used bookstore is as much about immersion, about embarcation on Pullman trains of thought.

Up front near the picture windows are a pair of reading chairs. One was favored by Kaspar, who died just over a year ago, seventeen years after turning from stray to store cat. Over the years I’ve seen people fall asleep in those chairs, but not once were they disturbed.

Images of the bookstore from my Lippincott Books set. Many thanks to Bill, Ginger & Nancy for creating such a quietly magical place.

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