Big Chicken Barn Books and Antiques. A 3000’ long chicken barn filled with antiques and over 150,000 books and 20,000 magazines. I have been here before, with my parents and also alone, and now I get to share the magic of this place with my love.
The first time we came here, he was struck nearly speechless – something that does not happen often.
“Oh, my god,” he breathed as we ascended the stairs going up to the second floor.
“I know,” I said, pausing at the landing to look up and down the length of the barn.
“Now, just take a moment. Take it all in. Look at all the books. Just look at them.”
“They’re all just waiting for us.”
“I mean, it’s overwhelming…. Where do we even begin?”
On our most recent trek to the Chicken Barn, just this past weekend, I found myself thinking of that first time we came here. We’d only been dating a couple months, and though we had already bonded over a shared love of books, it wasn’t really until that day that I was sure my love for him could compete with the love I’ve always held for words, stories, and bookshops. All things literary, really. Previously, the books had always come first. But in the time he and I have been together, we have undertaken countless weekends such as these – setting off into the wild blue yonder, exploring the nooks and crannies of bookshops, bringing home treasures each time. (Our limited shelving has turned into a sort of book Jenga.) So you’ll excuse me if I happen to mention him in these posts; he and I set out together on these bookish adventures, and so his presence is entwined in and important to each journey.
And I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful to be with someone who places as much importance on reading and books as I do. Not only that, he also loves and appreciates these old bookshops. I once dated a guy who brought me to BAM in Bangor. Even though I have always preferred privately owned, small, used bookstores, it was an exciting moment for me – the guy was not a reader, and I was perhaps too hopeful that I could convert him into one. In the store that day, he asked for help from a clerk to find the book he wanted. I headed to the Literature section to find a volume I was interested in, checked alphabetically by author. Not there. Instead of giving me time to find the book on my own, he again enlisted the help of a clerk. As a non-reader, there is no way he could have known that half the wonder is in finding the book on one’s own, so I suppose I cannot fault him for taking away a bit of the magic that day. I can, however, celebrate the fact that my current love would never make the same mistake.
But back to the present. This past Sunday afternoon – a lovely fall day, breezy and cool with endless blue skies – I meandered through the paperback fiction section at the Big Chicken Barn, taking time to scan my eyes over every title, running my fingertips over the spines of the books, carefully sliding a volume out of its place every so often to get a better look at the cover and to read the synopsis on the back. I reigned myself in and only bought six books this time – three of which are for my one-year old niece.
Even when I don’t bring home a dozen books from the Big Chicken Barn (as I often do), it is still easy to appreciate all the store has to offer. It is exactly what the name indicates – a massive, converted barn that once housed chickens. On the bottom floor, over 50 antiques dealers have booths after booths full of old furniture, clocks, jewelry, clothing, and other memorabilia. A wooden staircase invites you upstairs. Be sure to grab a basket for easier shopping – words can get so heavy when one carries too many of them all at once. Rows upon rows greet you when you arrive on the second floor. Any genre you could think of or want: travel, history, science, politics, art, poetry, fiction, biographies, children’s books, self-help, spirituality, arts-and-crafts, and rare, collectible volumes. And I’m sure I am forgetting some. I have spent hours here and still have yet to explore each booth. I always make sure to check Dictionaries and Reference for any books pertaining to creative writing, bibliomania, or anthologies of quotations. I also visit the poetry and short stories section before heading to my main scene: Fiction. If you’re more grounded than me, less of the head-in-the-clouds type, I recommend the nonfiction sections – science, history, etc. Even if you are not an avid reader, there is something for everyone at the Big Chicken Barn. With so many books, something is bound to capture your eye.
One should never go into an old bookshop with a specific, set idea of just one or two particular books you want. You should go in with open eyes and an open mind. You should allow your fingertips to drag slowly over spines of volumes until they come to rest on one that for some reason, rarely explainable, appeals to you. Perhaps it is a book of poetry you had read long ago and forgotten. Maybe it is a slim volume containing prophesies of ancient philosophers. It could be something that strikes you as amusing – a book of satiric humor, a seemingly ancient, heavy tome with bindings nearly bursting from the weight of words, an unexpected, out-of-place contemporary memoir you have read high reviews about. Just take your time. You’ll find the right one. Book hunting is a lot like love in that respect: it takes patience, time, faith, and a little bit of luck. And then you are rewarded with more than you could have ever imagined – hope, primarily, but also insight and inspiration, and a chance to know yourself in new, unexpected ways. And companionship. There’s that, too.
Open every day from 10:00 – 5:00 (unless otherwise indicated on their Facebook page), the Big Chicken Barn is located at 1768 Bucksport Road, right between Bucksport and Ellsworth. While you are in the area, I highly recommend you check out Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park (including Schoodic Point, where in the summer the water is somehow bluer than any other I’ve seen off the coast of Maine), the shops in downtown Ellsworth, and Fort Knox and the Penobscot Narrows Observatory, located in Bucksport. We explored Fort Knox this past weekend, and though I’ve been there before, the architecture and history of the place never ceases to amaze me. If you have time, you can also make the quick(ish) trip into Bangor, where you can shop, eat, or, if it’s your kind of thing, try your luck at gambling at the casino.
To sum up my first post, I will leave you with two things. One is a quote by William E. Gladstone: “Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books – even without taking them from the shelves, they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome.” This is certainly true for me – I have always been most at home in bookshops, among pages and words. And I believe one thing above all else, and this is the last thing I will leave you with today: There is incomparable magic to stories and the places that house them. There is wonder to be found within pages. Books and stories contain the world. And if you seek out this magic, this wonder, you will find within that world – and within yourself– more than you could have ever hoped for or imagined.