Monday, September 6, 2021


Part of my weekly routine, now that things are opening up a bit, includes a run up to Winchester to drop off my daughters for a ballet class. This usually leaves me with one odd hour to spend in whatever way I like.

A whole hour to spend however I like! Sometimes I can hardly believe it.

Most weeks, unless the day is just too glorious to pass indoors,* I visit my favorite used book store: Blue Plate Books. It’s only about a mile from the ballet studio. They know me now. I always get a cheerful hello and a smile when I walk in.

The shop is not much to look at from the outside (it’s next-door to a barber shop and the front window looks out onto a Wendy’s drive-through), but inside you find a very beautifully curated space. It’s like the interior of a treasure chest except all the gold and gemstones have been replaced by books and comfortable chairs. It’s a hidden gem, is what I’m saying.

There’s a lot of talk about books being portals to adventure—little rectangular hatches that let you escape from the mundane world into something more exciting. But what I relish from a good bookshop is a feeling of safety. Soft music plays as you sag into an armchair in a cocoon of outward-facing spines adorned with all the familiar names: Woolfe and Wilde; Dumas and Montaigne; Byatt, Doyle, King, and Gaiman—these never-met friends whose voices are so familiar. Shelves are arranged to create hidden nooks. Spinner racks playfully display the lurid, strange, and sensual covers of vintage mysteries, tales of terror, and strange new worlds. And the atmosphere is all be-cloaked in the fragrance old old paper.

(That smell. It’s the smell of being four—toddling among the shadowy shelves in the old Wells Library in Lafayette, when quotes from J.M. Barrie could still be seen cut into the stone hearth in the children’s room, while my mom filled her old canvas bag with a new week’s reading. It’s the smell of being seven, sitting on the worn carpet of the tiny Saint Mary’s library and listening to Sister Rose Maureen read Charlottes Web. It’s the smell of being eleven and riding my bike to Blue Moon Books to hunt through the stacks of old comics for missing issues of Elfquest. It’s the smell of Story.)

It’s no surprise, given my chosen life and work, that haunting bookstores is one of my favorite things. Not all bookstores are the same, of course. Finding a good one is like finding a friend. You don’t let go.

*On those fine days I wander Winchester’s gorgeous old cemetery, dreaming up the stories of the dead, or stroll down the Old Town walking mall, catching snatches of the stories of the living.