Seattle prides itself on being the most literate city in the nation, I’m not the judge, but it certainly is in the front of the pack. There are dozens of bookstores, and I was able to visit five within ten short blocks.
When I walked into Wessel and Lieberman Booksellers Inc. it felt like an English library (except for the bongo street musician outside). The store is elegant and quiet (discounting for the crowds of fans walking to the Seahawks game), it even has an employee sitting behind a large wood desk in the front of the store. It was such a sophisticated atmosphere, I was surprised to discovered it was a used bookstore. This isn’t your paperback romance novel used store, it is truly a treasure trove.
What caught my eye was a line of books on top of a bookshelf, each title a different state. I love to travel and one of my many traveling goals is to visit each state (along with each Great Lake, each mission on the California Mission Trail, each baseball stadium, etc), so I was intrigued. They were a collection of the American Guide Series, a WPA project during the depression that employed writers to write a book about each state; it’s history, culture, landmarks, potential driving tours. The project was expanded to include major cities and landmarks. I fell in love with them, both with the books and the fun of hunting for a collection that was large enough to last my lifetime. We picked up the Death Valley book and I mentioned to my husband and kids, several times, that I would love these for Christmas presents.
Wessel and Lieberman has an extensive selection of poetry books and art books. I looked through the poetry section for any Ted Kooser selections (he’s my favorite poet) and my husband went on the prowl for Edward S. Curtis art books. I came up empty, but we hit a Curtis jackpot.
Our good friend, Bruce Kapson, is an art dealer specializing in Edward S. Curtis works (more on Bruce in an upcoming post) so over the years we’ve seen some beautiful Curtis works, but not at used bookstore prices. At Wessel and Lieberman we found a two foot by three foot art book of portraits, Edward S. Curtis: Portraits from North American Indian Life. Curtis is frequently criticized because of the anthropological roots of his work (he would dress up an Indian from one tribe in the native wear of another tribe), but his work wasn’t for academic purposes, it was artistic and the portraits are stunning. While I loved the book, and the price, figuring out how to get it on the plane home defeated me. I shouldn’t have worried, Wesseland Lieberman have the best shipping prices I’ve encountered in years. In fact, if you order from their website, they ship for free, way to compete with Amazon!
As I wandered around the back room, one side fiction, the other non-fiction, I tripped across the perfect book for me, Brady & Lawless’ Favorite Bookstores by Frank Brady and Joann Lawless published in 1978. Mr. Brady and Ms. Lawless traveled around the country visiting bookstores and wrote a book reviewing their favorites. I cheered along with every sentence in the preface, most of which I’m sure I’ll quote at one time or another on this blog. Today’s favorite: “Bookstores are an important part of our literary culture. They have also served, since the Renaissance, as social and historical centers–quiet marketplaces for ideas.”
Of the bookstores we’ve reviewed so far, only Kramer Books & Afterwords Cafe shows up, the book describes how the owner, William Kramer, liked the tascas in Spain where people leisurely gathered, chatted and snacked before heading to dinner. He created a similar atmosphere in DC which the community enjoys to this day. Interestingly, the authors reviewed of Barnes and Noble in New York City as a single entity store on 5th Avenue (my son bought the latest Harry Potter there several years ago) with an annex at Rockerfeller Square and a new store in Boston. My, things have changed.