BY THE BOOK | For The Love Of Browsing


Walking back to my store from the bank I thought, how am I going to conquer the world and become The Supreme Leader?  

I figured it out, but then decided against it as it would take too long and cut into my reading time.  If only the awful people in history had become interested in book culture.  They wouldn't have bothered with their bad ways because the endless inner rewards of reading would have taken up all their time and interest.  When anybody criticizes me for anything (too many snacks, need a haircut, haven't swept the store in five years) I think, ahh but I have a rich inner life.  

One of the ways to get into book culture is to go to a bookstore.  And once you are in there the idea is to properly browse.  When I go into The Brattle Book Shop, I don't think, “Oh there's this particular book I've been wanting, let me see if they have it.”  I think, “What wonders will my brain discover to feast on?” 

I was in there the other day and discovered a history of the Manchester Public Library from 1888.  There is a great photo in the book of the library books and they seem to be behind a wall, no browsing!  How interesting, I did not know that before.  I think the idea was that the librarian browsed for you.  And upon reading the book, which is really a bunch of meandering speeches that were given at the dedication, I stumbled upon the essay by the Rev. Daniel Marvin—he compares readers, whom he calls bookworms, to Napoleon!  Always wanting more territory.  And then he lists fascinating facts such as that The German Empire has the most books in the world at 14 million and that Egypt and Iceland are tied for the least amount of books in 1888.  Who knew?  But the speeches are all sweet and heartfelt and there are some nice poems as well.

I often browse my own store (like every second) and I find that how a book looks is surprisingly important.  British books in particular from 1880 to 1930 are so good looking that I think, oh, they must be proud of that book and taken the time to make it pleasing to the eye.  Another clue I look for in the browse is the publisher.  If my mind takes me to a subject I might be interested in and I see the book is by Cambridge University Press I tend to think it is going to be good as I don't think they publish bad books.  Or an art book by Taschen or a nature book by Storey.  But the main things that clues me in is the mythology of the good book.  In the recesses of my mind there is a list of books that I've heard of, or seen in a rare book catalog, that have become standard works.  I must read as many as I can before I die.  Now I'm going to browse in real time my fishing section and see what I find.  What a section!  What a bookstore!  Three books leapt out at me (literally, luckily I had my net) In the Ring of the Rise by Vincent Marinaro, Death of a Riverkeeper by Ernest Schwiebert and Return to the River by Roderick Haig-Brown.  Fishing books tend to have a richness to them because the guys (in all the fishing books I've handled I don't think I've seen one by a woman!) tend to be nut-jobs who are so obsessed with fishing they just have to write about it.  The books all tend to start off a bit pedantic but then once they let loose there are such celebratory joys of nature and beauty.  

But I've only got so much time, I must get back to reading and browsing. 

Mark Stolle owns Manchester By The Book, a used bookstore in downtown Manchester and he offers biweekly recommendations for our readers on what to read right now.

vincent marinaro, roderick haig-brown, ernest schwiebert, by the book