“Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.” – Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
My selection of books often feels like predestination. When I go into a bookshop, I rarely go in looking for any specific book. For the most part, I simply wander to the shelves, perusing, dreaming of the unseen words before me. Often I watch in wonder as my hand reaches out to a book I may have never even known existed. I select by look, by weight, and by “feel”… I’m not sure I can explain what I mean by that, except to say that this feeling of knowing comes over me when I find the right one. This impossible-to-explain phenomenon is what has led me to some of my favorite books. Perhaps the best example of this is how I happened upon an 800-page behemoth of a Young Adult novel when I was seventeen named This is All: The Pillowbook of Cordelia Kenn, by Aidan Chambers. I had never heard of it, but when I saw the orange and yellow cover and felt the weight of the book in my hands, I knew it had to be mine. And that story has become an integral part of my own, as the fictional Cordelia Kenn shared my love of writing, reading, words, and stories, and it was from her that I adopted my style of journal writing. And it was from that imagined character that I grew more confident within my own self at a time I needed it most.
Part of the magic of used bookshops is that I never know what I am going to find. So when I stumble across a book on those dusty, chaotic shelves that speaks to me in whatever mood I happen to be in that day, it always seems to be a bit of a miracle, as though Fate has led me to the particular volume I need. Poetry for my romantic leanings; short stories for when I am feeling unfocused; long, convoluted, literary fiction for when I am particularly greedy for words; fluffy beach reads for when I need a quick palette cleanser. I have always managed to find the right book at the right time.
My latest literary adventure is no exception. Already in the area for a doctor’s appointment, my love and I decided to make a trip into downtown Bangor for lunch and to check out the Antique Marketplace & Café and BookMarcs bookstore. After having some delicious sandwiches at Giacomo’s, we headed over to the antique store. As soon as we walked in, we were hit with the delicious smell of baked goodies from the café that is run inside the shop – you can sit and indulge in pastries, light lunch fare, and coffee. The shop is filled with all sorts of eclectic antiques – jewelry, signs, furniture, memorabilia. There are also books, tucked away into nooks and crannies of the booths; the largest collection, Sarah’s Books, Used & Rare, is located downstairs.
It was there that I happened to find a novel that has been on my wish list for months now – The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, a novel about a bookseller and bibliophile, a novel that celebrates the role that stories and narrative play in our lives. After more searching, I came upon a section of shelves labeled “Books About Books,” and it was there that I discovered two volumes that seemed to scream at me, “HERE I AM! PICK ME, PICK ME!” My Bookshop, edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America (with an Introduction by Richard Russo), and Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Anne Fadiman. The former is a collection of essays by authors that detail their favorite bookshops. The latter is a small book by a fellow bibliomaniac like me who believes in the magic of the written word. As I held the volumes up to my nose, inhaling the aroma of the pages (yes, I confess: I am a book-sniffer), I couldn’t help but marvel that each of my finds was book-related. How ironic and intriguing that just as I begin this blog to celebrate my love of stories and used bookshops, I should find books related to these very topics. But then, as my mother says, “We bring in what we send out.” Meaning, of course, that it was no coincidence at all that I should find such books, as the topics they cover have been the very thing most on my mind lately: bookshops, word power, and all such related matters.
Onto a bookshop proper: BookMarcs. This store has always held a certain charm for me. I like how clean and well-organized it is. Despite its small size, the shop has an airy, open feel about it. A lot of the selection is Maine-based: fiction set in Maine, books by Maine authors (there is a great display of Stephen King novels at the very front of the store), nonfiction accounts of game wardens, Maine history, geography, culture. There is a good selection of new and used hardcovers and paperbacks. Many of the newer books sell for full retail value, but used books marked with an orange sticker are sold at a discounted price. One architectural quirk I have always appreciated in this store is that the manager’s office is located behind what appears to be an old bank vault door. If you go up the stairs to the second floor above Java Joe’s (where you can get a cup of coffee as well as sandwiches, soups, and salads), you can peruse even more shelves of books.
It was nearing mid-afternoon by the time we got to BookMarc’s, so I didn’t have as much time to hunt for treasure as I’d normally like. I spent most of my time looking for something in the Fiction section – my Go-To choice, one that usually never disappoints. But for some reason, none of the titles were catching my eye. And so I wandered back over to the nonfiction shelves, where I found a section devoted to books about writing and literature. And it was there that I found a small, almost hidden volume: The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, by Lewis Buzbee, a book detailing the history of book-selling. I picked it up on a whim, paid $4 for it, and went on my merry way. And then, once we’d passed Waterville on our way back home to Brunswick, I proceeded to ignore my duties as co-pilot, as I got absorbed in the pages of the book, caught up in the way the author writes of his love of bookshops and stories with such unmasked, genuine love, admiration, and respect. And again, I thought it was strange – and yet not strange at all – that I found this book that day, with thoughts of this blog tumbling around in my head. It lends more credibility to my belief that I don’t find books – the books find me.
The Antique Marketplace & Café is located at 65 Main Street in Bangor and is open daily. Be sure to allow for ample time to peruse! BookMarcs Bookstore, at 78 Harlow Street, is open Monday – Friday, 10 AM to 5:30 PM, and Saturday 10 AM to 4:00 PM. They are closed on Sundays. Downtown Bangor offers a number of great restaurants and shops, and on fair-weather days, it is wonderful to just walk along the sidewalk, admiring the architecture of the old buildings. Of course, I am hoping that stroll takes you into either of the shops I’ve mentioned here. Allow yourself to feel the magnetic pull of the books drawing you in, closer… closer… and take what books you find – or rather, which ones find you.