Sunday, March 6, 2011

Freebird Books

Let me just take a moment to sing the praises of my neighborhood bookstore, Freebird Books. It's only open on the weekends, and sometimes on Thursday and Friday nights, and sells used books. The smell that comes out of the door is like a spice market, all old paper and moldering book glue and the smugness that comes from people who take their reading very, very seriously.

Some used bookstores are little more than literary Salvation Armies. Need self-help books from the 80s? Eleven copies of a Tom Clancy novel? Outdated Farmers Almanacs? These bookstores of ill repute take anything and everything and leave heaps of books on the sidewalk with a hand-scrawled $1 sign, knowing perfectly well that they can't give that crap away. It reminds me of my uncle's lake cabin up in Washington state, where a couple of chairs and an old record player sat unguarded on the porch for years, waiting for someone to steal them so my uncle wouldn't have to haul them to the dump himself.

Other used bookstores, like Freebird, take themselves, as I said, very seriously. Freebird is like Beacon's Closet, a used clothing store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that has never bought a single item from the sacks of clothes I bring in, even when--and this is a bit odd--I'd bought the articles in question from Beacon's Closet a few months before. Beacon's Closet has a shelf in their buying room for people to leave clothes that the store won't take but will donate to charity; this shelf is always groaning with cardboard boxes and plastic bags. Likewise, Freebird Books has given their basement space to a charity that collects books for prison inmates. There's something vaguely elitist and distasteful about the attitude held by both Beacon's Closet and Freebird Books--if it's shite, we'll give it to the less fortunate--but on the other hand, I love both of these stores for the quality of their merchandise, so I guess I'm just the sort of terrible, terrible person that these establishments serve.

Freebird Books doesn't just sell books I'd like to read, but books I'd like to own. A truly dedicated reader--someone who can be reading three books at a time and still feel the need to read every ad on the subway--doesn't necessarily need to own many books. As a reader, I like getting rid of books on my bookshelf almost more than I like acquiring them. But certain books I need to keep. It's a compulsion. I need to keep "The Book of Salt" and "The Red Tent" and all ten volumes of "The Sandman." It doesn't matter if I only read them once a year or once every two years. Their existence on my bookshelf is proof that I am who I am; these are the books that so perfectly describe who I am on the inside that getting rid of them would be like leaving parts of myself on the stoop for the neighbors to cart away. Unthinkable.

Freebird is full of these books. If it were my bookstore, I would do everything in my power to prevent people from buying any of the books on my shelves. There would be too much of me in them. I suspect that the person who owns Freebird feels the same way, because I go there frequently, spend a lot of time taking up space and reading the merchandise, and I've only ever bought two books from the place in the one and a half years that I've been here. Yet the staff never asks me to leave, or asks if I'm looking for anything, or even pays me much attention while I'm there. It's like shopping in Amsterdam--they ignore you until you have your item and your credit card in hand. Sometimes I'm there for hours and no one even comes up from the back of the store to say hello. Once or twice I think I've gone in to find it totally empty, no staff or shoppers or anything. If it wasn't right next door, I'd probably suspect it of being a fairy store, only there at certain times of the moon, and capable of whisking me hundreds of years into the future in a single afternoon.

They have book club that meets once a month, but they only read post-apocalyptic and dystopian literature, which hits a little to close to home these days for my comfort.

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