Ernest Hebert: The Holiness of Bookshops

Ernest Hebert posted this reflection on bookshops on Facebook on Feb. 20. When I asked him if he’d let me reprint it on the Howe blog, he gave me the green light. I told him that the gang at Howe shares his enthusiasm and reverence for books, authors, bookstores, and libraries. I’ve known Ernie since the 1980s when he wrote a long article about Lowell and Jack Kerouac for YANKEE magazine. He lives in western New Hampshire, the location for his seven novels set in the fictional Darby. All of these titles will come back into print this summer when Wesleyan University Press issues the full Darby series. He’s also got a new novel, Whirlybird Island, due this summer from Plaidswede Publications in Concord, N.H. Great news.–PM

Ernest Hebert (web photo by Peter Biello for N. H. Public Radio)

Holy Places

by Ernest Hebert
I’m not formally religious so when I walk into a chapel I don’t feel as if I’ve walked into a chapel, but yesterday when I walked into the Arch Bridge Bookshop in Bellows Falls, Vermont, I felt as if I’d walked into a chapel.
The last time I had that feeling was at Eagle Books in Keene.
I mean I love stores that sell new books, like the Toadstool in Keene and Village Square Booksellers a few doors down from Arch Bridge Bookshop, but there’s something about stores that specialize in used books that helps me keep faith in the human epoch.
Stores that sell new books are about today, but stores that sell old books are about a thousand plus years of the printed word and one’s own personal history of reading. Old bookstores don’t require decor to feature the products, the products are the decor. Old bookstores represent a vision of their owners, a vision that is less mercantile than personal and even spiritual. Exchange pleasantries and converse with them and you feel that these are trustworthy people fit to carry on what is good and meaningful about all of us.
I’m thinking of Sylvia Felix of Eagle books, Corlan Johnson and Nancy Cressman of Left Bank Books in Hanover, Dave H. of the Hundredth Monkey Bookshop in White River Junction, and Duane Whitehead, who I met yesterday at Arch Bridge Bookshop. You and others of your ilk are the keepers of the flame.

2 Responses to Ernest Hebert: The Holiness of Bookshops

  1. David Daniel says:

    Thanks for the memories. When I consider the holy used bookstores in which I’ve been a communicant over the years, it’s a fond tally: Mcintyre & Moore (formerly of Hvd Sq and then Somerville); Bryn Mawr of Cambridge; Avenue Victor Hugo (30 years on Newbury St. Boston, now, I’m told, in Lee, NH); Portsmouth Book & Bar; Raven Books; Kate’s Mystery Books; Mystery Lovers, Ink; others … many are gone, a few endure. I’ve got books I bought in all of them; along with bookmarks, mugs, and good memories.

    You nailed it: Old bookstores don’t require decor to feature the products, the products are the decor.”

  2. Brian says:

    Here is some insight about bookstores and buildings from Jane Jacobs:

    [Businesses] that support the cost of new construction must be capable of paying a relatively high overhead. If you look about, you will see that only operations that are well established, high-turnover, standardized or heavily subsidized can afford, commonly, to carry the costs of new construction. Chain stores, chain restaurants and banks go into new construction. But neighborhood bars, foreign restaurants and pawn shops go into older buildings. Supermarkets and shoe stores often go into new buildings; good bookstores and antique dealers seldom do.