When I entered The Globe Bookstore in Seattle, Washington, I was the only customer and the owner, John Siscoe, calmly rocked back and forth in a chair in the center of the store. He apologized for the door being closed and the stuffy atmosphere, but he needed a break from the street music. He emphasized that he liked the music, he just needed a break. I understood; I have a teenager.
The Globe Bookstore is small, a standard store front with a little more depth, but bookcases climbing up all of the walls and open space filled with free-standing racks and shelves. I headed to the recommendation shelf and John made it clear that the only book he personally recommended was the “Grand Prix d’Escargot,” all the other books were suggested by customers and he hadn’t read them. I thought for a moment, I know a lot of book prizes, but not all of them. My memory isn’t what it used to be, but I was confident that if I had ever heard of the Snail’s Grand Prize, I would have remembered it. So I asked, what is it?
The Grand Prix d’Escargot is awarded by the owners of The Globe Bookstore, John and his wife Carolyn, for the best book that was out of print and recently re-released. They choose the book that they’ve had to search high and low for and that they’re relieved a publisher has re-printed it. The current winner was The Thief and the Dogsby Naguib Mahfouz.
Initially published in 1961, The Thief and the Dogs is the first stream of consciousness novel in Arabic. It’s the story of a Marxist thief who feels betrayed when he is released from jail and his subsequent revenge plots. Mr. Mahfouz is best known for the Cairo Trilogy (simply called ‘the Trilogy’ in Egypt); Palace Walk, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street. John described Palace Walk as brilliant and the other two as excellent. I was too embarrassed to admit that the Palace Walk has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for years; however, it has survived numerous clean sweep donations to the library, so I’m still planning on reading it.
Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. John explained that prior to that time the American University in Cairo Press translated some of Mr. Mahfouz’s works in English and printed them in relatively small numbers. After winning the Nobel, a “large publishing house” bought up the AUC stock and then translated the books and printed vast quantities. It’s hard to verify the story from the AUC website, but in any event, I’m thankful the books are widely available in English.
I shared with John the re-publishing story I knew about Jincy Willett. He immediately searched for the book on his computer to order it. As I wandered around the store, I watched John interact with every customer who walked through the door. Some were tourists like me and he helped them find what they were looking for, others were regulars who grabbed the rocking chair when it was free to shoot the breeze. When one regular entered, John led him to the rocking chair then searched behind the calendar for a newspaper article he had cut out and saved just for him. They were eagerly reading it and discussing it when I left to join the street music outside.
The Globe Bookstore
218 1st Avenue, South
Grand Central Building
Seattle, WA 98104