You live in Montgomery. You like to read. So far, so good. Lots of nice places to sit and read, plenty of shady trees and so forth – a good city to have a reading habit. Sometimes you like to buy additional books to read. This will be less great, especially if you like to physically go to bookstores and browse what’s available. Montgomery’s just not a good bookstore town.
CAVEATS: (1) Capitol Book & News. Our wonderful neighborhood bookstore has a great collection, extraordinarily helpful staff and a fantastic sale room, but they stock all new stuff, and sometimes one just can’t afford new books (especially on a non-profit salary). (2) New South Books. Close to work, with a delightfully retro Montgomery Book Factory sign above the entrance, every part of this bookstore makes a fun visit. New and used are in the same shop, which is a definite plus. Alas, many of the books are rare and thus super-spendy. Also the collection is pretty small. (3) Trade ‘N Books. But only if you’re into genre fiction, which we really aren’t. (4) Big Chains. Yes, we know that there’s a Barnes & Noble in town, also Books-A-Million. Look, both of these are big mega-chains (strike one), and not even the good big mega-chain bookstore (that’s Borders, strike two), and while you can find a lot of stuff at them (well, at Barnes & Noble … Books-A-Million deserves its local nickname Books-A-Dozen), you’re just as likely to be confronted in an unpleasant way by the massive self-help section and any number of coffee table books featuring glossy photos of military airplanes. (5) Religious Bookstores. There seem to be a lot of these in town. Haven’t been. Not planning to go. (6) Friends of the Library Bookstore. Haven’t been. Really want to go.
So, you want to look at some used books. Perhaps some other ephemera as well? Get yourself up to Birmingham and visit Reed Books [aka The Museum of Fond Memories]. It’s an entirely overwhelming experience. Not just for the books (the collection is eclectic, heavy on the childrens’/young adult lit, and is definitely not for someone looking to pick up a Grisham paperback for the road), but also for the stuff. The dizzying, crazy variety of stuff. There’s no way pictures can do the place justice. It’s as if every cool garage sale in the world decided suddenly to merge, colliding in a giddy explosion of plastic Santas and statues and cheese graters and matchbooks and trading cards and old brochures and campaign signs and tiny boxes that hold other tiny boxes.
And then there are the personal effects. There are at least two banks of postal boxes at the front of the store, with each cubby holding, well, stuff. Letters, mostly, and pictures and postcards. So to call it “stuff” is the biggest insult in the world, frankly, since each cubby contains dozens of memories, some probably treasured, some disposable, but all crazily archived here for you to look over in wonder. In just a few minutes standing at the letterboxes, I read a letter from a pastor’s wife in Tuscaloosa to a man in Montgomery, a letter from an army cadet to his brother from training camp, a Christmas card, part of a Standard Oil work diary, and looked at a few dozen photographs – each one poignant, special, and still discarded somehow to end up here, saved and for sale and browsing. I bought a few photos for a project I’m working on. I also bought a book for my boyfriend and a great Modern Library copy of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class.
It’s a magical place, part bookstore, part haven for lost and wandering memories. Well worth the drive and a long, long afternoon.