Sometimes you come across a book shop that seems, somehow, to exist in a parallel universe, with an entirely different set of books, organized in some novel way, and with a variety that makes book megashops like Indigo and Borders seem like Walmart.
The Globe Corner Bookstore in Boston has a selection of travel books and maps the likes of which I’ve never encountered elsewhere (well, except for the The Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill, which has the added advantage of star power). The Highway Book Shop in Cobalt, Ontario is, at least in my childhood memories, like a book-lover’s paradisal airplane hanger. New England Mobile Book Fair near Boston has a section where the books are organized by publisher, which, at least for certain publishers, is very, very useful.
My favourite book store, though, is Toadstool Books. They have an outlet in Peterborough, NH and another larger one in Keene, NH up the highway, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the years browsing through both. I find books there that I don’t see elsewhere: they have depth in travel literature, art and design, transportation and a children’s section, especially in Keene, that boggles the mind (they have a section of “books about horses” for kids).
I dropped by Toadstool on Tuesday night – I’m here in southern New Hampshire visiting my colleagues at Yankee for a week – and spent ninety minutes, yet again amazed at what I found. Fifty dollars later I emerged with everything from the Moon Handbook to Croatia and Slovenia to Ed Emberley’s Make a World Drawing Book. I could have easily spent twice has much had I the space in my luggage for a book about hand-drawn maps or a book about a Paris café or a book about how to make pop-up books.
Alas the store was deserted: I was the only customer inside its rambling expanse for most of my visit, and I heard the staff lamenting the arrival, in recent years, of Borders out on the edge of town and the continual chipping away of the book trade by Amazon.com.
Which is a shame: Toadstool doesn’t have every book ever printed, and it doesn’t have a Starbucks, but what it does have is a carefully curated collection of books that, together, are unique. I hope it survives.