I have to admit I feel overwhelmed by the task. You see, I spent twelve years living in a town that went from one small used bookstore to none. Within a half-hour’s drive I could be at two bookstores—indies, of course, since B&N doesn’t always count. One of the shops was the Princeton University bookstore, so that was almost unfair. Now I live in a region with many bookstores. I wasn’t truly aware of this when deciding on where to settle; the decision was made on practical matters such as being able to get to work, and affordability. It turns out that central eastern Pennsylvania is unexpectedly bookish. I’m not complaining, you understand. I haven’t had much time to explore, and that’s why I’m overwhelmed. That, and Banned Books Week.
I’ve been to the oldest continuously operated bookstore in the world, The Moravian Book Shop, in Bethlehem. Twice already. But there are many more within an easy drive from here. “Lead us not into temptation,” the prayer goes, but if we’re honest we’ll admit we love the challenge. Home owning is expensive. There’s always something that needs to be done—the sort of thing you used to let the landlord handle—they are lords, after all. And time for reading is scarce. Add to this that there are bookstores I haven’t even entered yet, not far away, and a kind of anxiety grows. You have to realize that even in Manhattan reaching a bookstore on lunch hour was difficult. They are few and far between. It’s overwhelming being in a region where indie bookstores have held on.
My wife recently showed me an ad for an indie bookstore over the border in New Jersey. They were looking for new owners. We’ve often discussed how perhaps a retirement job for us might be just such a thing. Of course, business sense isn’t my strong suit—just learning how to own a house seems pretty hard. The idea of making a living surrounded by books, however, is appealing. (You might think an editor reads all day, and while that sometimes happens the reading is generally embryonic books. Besides, there’s something serendipitous about discovering fully fledged books that you didn’t know were coming.) To buy a business requires capital, and we’re more the minuscule type, when it comes to finance. As we settle into our house we decide which books go where, and it is remarkably satisfying. After I’m done being overwhelmed by all there is to do in the house, I’m looking forward to being overwhelmed by exploring the bookstores of central eastern Pennsylvania.