I don’t just read books, I eat them, devour them. I am like an alcoholic, a junkie, a crack head. I can’t get enough of them. I’d always been grateful for the Heights Bookstore, just blocks from my home. I loved the smell of the store. I loved getting a coffee and a bagel from Lassen & Henning’s, and sitting outside on the benches, checking out the new window displays. I would peruse the dollar racks hoping against hope I would find something to read, and often I did. But if not, I’d wander inside. I loved the vintage pulp fiction in plastic bags. I loved the narrow aisles. I have a map of the store in my brain; to the left, the cash register. Directly in front of me, the signed first editions. To the right, new arrivals. Further down the first aisle— religion and metaphysics. Fiction snaked along the back wall, A-Z. This place was home. I knew everyone. They played great music; jazz, original Broadway recordings, classical music; The Brandenburg Concertos, Chopin’s Preludes and Etudes.
I loved the people who worked there; bookish and nerdy, like me. I’d go in there if I was having a meltdown. I would feel better the instant I walked in; I liked the way I could hide in the stacks, walk all the way to the back, to the little room that had the biographies. Once when I writing a play on Dona Gracia, a Sephardic woman who lived in Venice in the 16th century, I found a book called Secrecy and Deceit. It was exactly what I was looking for— it had primary texts; prayers, letters, business receipts. All the flotsam and jetsam of a repressed culture; Jewish people forced to convert to Christianity during the Portuguese Inquisition. It added the exact right note of authenticity to the piece I was writing. I never dared dream I could find a source like this outside of the hallowed halls of academia.
And now it’s gone. The doors and the windows boarded up. I haven’t really allowed myself to deal with this. I’ve been rereading old books. I like the new bookstore on Atlantic Avenue, but its not the same. It’s a great store, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have the wealth of popular fiction I crave. After all, even a literary crack head needs to read a little Jodi Picoult, Anita Shreve or even Stephen King. It can’t always be Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion or Jose Saramago. Is this a sign of the financial times? Is it really too much to hope that small independent bookstores with personality and magic will remain viable? I’ve heard they’ve moved to Park Slope. I hope they continue to flourish. I hope another bookstore takes its place on Montague.