Whispers In The Stacks
By Robert Beck
Bookstores are a portal to a world of your own making, and places that sell used books add a magical layer to that. You can see, smell, and feel it as soon as you walk in.
A typical contemporary book store has an eye toward what is popular, what is the latest, what is hip, and what customers buy. They know what you want, or should want, before you arrive. A used book store is a rescue mission. They have what showed up at the door. Some are rarer than others, but all are worthy of consideration. This is where you discover the seasoned, the memorable, and the obscure. Spirits of the printed word greet you at the door and take you to places and times that speak in their original voices.
Books are tactile, intimate treasure chests. They have lives. They go places, passed from hand to hand, delivering the message. The information, the story, is right there, solid and weighty, with no concern for connectivity or battery life. Used book stores are sacred places. For some of us, it is blasphemous to discard a book. I’ve bought them just because they deserved a good home or to show them respect and appreciation. A visit to a used bookstore is like heading into the woods to hunt for mushrooms. Okay, maybe that’s not the best analogy to use on the Upper West Side. Rather a restorative trip to a foreign land. An adventure.
I did this painting on the second floor of Westsider Rare & Used Books, across from Zabar’s. [81st and Broadway] People came in, stopped to absorb the two-story, floor-to-ceiling shelves stuffed with books, and their eyes widened in anticipation. Some asked where to find a specific subject or author. Regulars knew right where to go. Others browsed. Topics ran from one shelf to the next to the next, luring people deep into the stacks with volumes they didn’t know they needed, subjects they weren’t expecting, references out of memory, jewels biding time. They would slide one out of line, open and cradle it in their left hand, the middle finger of the right lifting the tip of the next page, and listen to a voice that has been waiting, welcoming them to an enchanted place.
Westsider Rare & Used Books has a new Instagram account: @westsiderbooks
To contact Robert Beck or see more of his work, visit robertbeck.net
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