Monday, August 04, 2008

Books of Connecticut Past

Off to Connecticut this past weekend, and despite my partner's feelings to the contrary, I quite like the state in some ways. I'm troubled by the gross inconsistencies, sure, wherein cities are intensely dangerous and rundown while the countryside is comically bucolic and moneyed, but I also find things to like in both city and country. But alas, I'll let those who know better debate the finer points.

On Saturday, we left my sister's li'l oasis in Middlebury to hit three bookstores. The first one was the John Bale Book Co. in Waterbury. It looked so cool, but as it turns out, it's closed every Saturday in August due to building repairs. I was bummed. The cafe looked pretty nice, too.

It was not meant to be this time.

So we left the fine industrial big town/li'l city of Waterbury to find the next store on our list, which was about 1/2 way between Waterbury and New Haven. It was listed as a book barn, and my partner and I both love book barns (Especially Pleasant Street Books of Woodstock, VT)!

And the store was Whitlock Farm Bookstore in Bethany, CT - which has no website, hence this link. It was, indeed, a charming place, with a good collection of books. We arrived in the pouring rain, after driving down a charming country road. It turned out to be near perfect weather for browsing through dusty old books in a converted turkey barn, the rain providing a steady beat as we went aisle to aisle, corner to corner.

Having read his book, Rats, I picked up a copy of Robert Campbell's The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of the City, about that swampy area of New Jersey just outside of NYC that is protected but presumably polluted to all hell. I've become a fan of this urban nature writing, so I thought this would be a good addition to the library. My partner, an academic, figured out that a fellow leftist historian had just sold a large collection of leftist history books to the store, so he found a good few titles to buy as well as a number of books he would have happily purchased if he did not already have copies at home.

But there was more! Whitlock has a second barn - converted from a sheep barn, the woman told me - about 30 yards away, so we raced through the rain to that barn to find all the books under $5. What a great idea! Neither of us ended up purchasing anything from this barn, but I loved that it was there, and it was full of vacation reads and books you don't mind buying just in case, since they were cheap cheap cheap.

The rain had stopped by the time we left Whitlock, and we got back on the road for New Haven. We did not have Yale in mind in and of itself, as neither one of us felt the need to see another ivy league campus, but I did want to see the Labyrinth Books, the indie bookstore that I believe started in New Haven before opening in Princeton and in NYC, near Columbia (not necessarily in that order. Though I have since learned that the store where I bought the charming novel, The Boy Detective Fails, in NYC is no longer Labyrinth, but is now Book Culture.

The store in New Haven was fine - clean, easy to navigate, approachable employees. Rather quickly, we headed to the annex downstairs with remainders, and found some good stuff. It was a predictable selection - white leftist intellectual stuff - but my partner found another few books to purchase. I almost bought Barry Glassner's The Gospel of Food, but decided against it. It was a bit eerie because there were very few customers there on this Saturday afternoon, but the thunderstorm had just finished and it was Yale in the summer, so it made sense. It just gave the place a bit of a sterile feeling.

So that was Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, as we headed back to Boston, we stopped at a place I have always noticed and always wondered about, like so many drivers on I-84: Traveler Food and Books, or Restaurant, or Bookstore. I don't know the official name, but the place is pretty damn cool. It had a certain sense of books - as not disposable, but far from elite. Here, books are lying around everywhere, around the tables, as you walk in, outside the restroom - this is on top of the basement that offers a more traditional used-bookstore set-up. And they also had book bundles they had created, with themese like Bestsellers, Horror, YA, Romance... and you could get a dozen mass markets for $10. Terrific! Sadly, I found nothing to buy here, but I was hungry and a bit cranky after a weekend with the family. Then we went upstairs thinking we'd eat, but my partner had been there before and wasn't sold on the food, and the prices were not as cheap as one might imagine looking around. Add to this the fact that the two women working there refused to look up so as to seat us, and you can appreciate why we left. I should note, however, that my partner once again found some leftist book to buy, so we did give them some money. I'm anxious to go back in a more relaxed state of mind.

So a bookish weekend, proving Connecticut is more than rich white people, NYC suburbs, and pizza slices. I also discovered, upon coming back, a new Texan writer to read up on, but more on that in another post...

[please forgive the formatting mess - or blame blogspot!]

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