A volume of short stories and poetry aims to celebrate bookstores.
After bumping into each other at Classics Books in Trenton, New Jersey, bookstore owner and writer Maywar and prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa decided to “collaborate on a collection of poems and stories that all take place” in a bookstore. The result is a volume of 20 offerings from various authors and artists that include poetry, prose, a play, and a scattering of illustrations. Following the introduction, the collection opens with a piece by editor Maywar (Running Flat, 2016) that alludes immediately to the magical quality of bookstores: “Everybody wants to pull a book in a bookstore and discover a secret passageway.” Komunyakaa contributes an extract from his book-length poem “The Last Bohemian of Avenue A,” a mournful paean to disappearing Lower East Side bookstores. A short story by Jeff Edelstein steps inside the mind of an impatient book collector. In a tale by Jackie Reinstedler, a bookstore becomes a family’s place of refuge from worldly worries. Komunyakaa’s poem is a standout piece; his writing is spare yet fiercely moving: “Lower East Side bookstores / are now gutted temples, / & when windows of St. Marks / were papered I felt the hurt.” A poem by Barry Gross effectively portrays the homely comfort drawn from bookstores. Regarding closing time, he writes: “I’m hoping he overlooks / and locks me in so I can make / a paper blanket of words / to feed this warmth.” But the collection lacks variety, with Maywar contributing nine of the 20 pieces. His keen observations are let down by tenuous metaphors: Bookstores are “powder kegs, ready to amplify whatever emotion you have when you enter one.” They often offer sentiments expressed by other writers, making the collection repetitive: “Used bookstores are havens for readers in an unkind world.” Still, the poem “At Classics Books” by Doc Long deftly captures the atmosphere of a bookstore: “Open any book” and sense “the sulk of wine and incense / all the way from Dakar or Tashkent.” But the evocative scent of biblichor permeates this volume all too faintly, proving insufficient to transport readers to their favored spots between the bookshelves.
An intriguing but inconsistent collection that explores the allure of bookstores.