|Nice-looking bookstore, yes?|
The opening sentence of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is comically poignant.
“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
For affluent people of the 21st century, the same could be said of holiday travel. A blond, permanently sun-tanned acquaintance has effervesced for months about family plans to spend Christmas on a Caribbean island. She has revealed every tiny detail about the coral reefs, the allegedly fun snorkeling outings, and the incredible shopping.
She asked about our travel plans.
"We might go to Barnes and Noble," I said.
It's not that I wouldn't like to travel, but the pandemic has curtailed my plans for two years. On the folly scale, I give myself a 6 out of 10, but I am not quite mad enough to hang out at airports during a pandemic, or enjoy being squeezed hip to hip with masked strangers in a middle seat.
Where do we glamorous readers go for Christmas if we're not at the airport? That is what we want to know. To the bookstores, dashing through the snow? We've already chosen our gift books, which are festively wrapped and stacked under the mini-tinsel tree.
Of course I long to go to bookshops in other towns. And yet I recall too well my trip to Iowa City last fall. Book stalls were set up on the tree lawn outside The Haunted Bookshop, but the store itself was closed to customers - open for browsing by appointment, $25 an hour.
There are alternatives to haunting local and regional bookstores, of course. If only I could get on a plane... I would love to spend a day in New York at the Strand. But my husband hates New York, and Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without my husband. How about Boston? No, BOWASH is also prohibited. Chicago is nearby, he says. But I protest that the raw wind in that gray city could whoosh us right into Lake Michigan. And I checked the Chicago weather forecast: GALE WARNING.
As a book lover, I find solace in reviews and book blogs. And I enjoyed a recent book column in the TLS, with the title, "Secondhand in Church Street, Foyles staff stifled, Rex Warner at the crease." The columnist had visited the Church Street Bookshop in Stoke Newington, London. I love the Russell Hoban quotation she says is posted on a bookcase: “Sometimes I, for example, have the delusion that this shop is a business, then I come back to reality and realise that it’s just an expensive hobby.”
So if I ever travel again.... But I can only go to Church Street Bookshop if I can get there by tube, preferably on the green or blue line - I believe I've navigated those before!