From MICHELLE DEAN
1. The people who fret over the Future of the Book talk about the loss of the tactile, of the physical act of holding the book. Me, the only thing I worry about is no longer having used books.
2. Not long after I graduated from hoarding old Sweet Valley High paperbacks, I bought a beat-up, mass-market paperback copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I had little interest in reading it; I’m not sure I ever did. I bought it because inside the front cover was the stamp of “Shakespeare and Company, Paris.” I was only seventeen or so but I knew what that meant. It was from That Bookstore. I had to have it, though the cover was falling I kept it for years until it disappeared in a move. I like to think a mover kept it for himself. I can make peace with it finding that kind of home.
Years later, after I lost it, I learned that That Bookstore closed in 1941, long before Pirsig published Zen. (The one that now bears that name in That City does so as a tribute, and occupies a different adress.) Whatever hands it passed through were latecomer ones, impostors. I am not sure if that makes it better or worse.
3. More recently, at the Strand, in the basement (the basement is truly the best part of the Strand, you have missed something if you don’t venture down there), I bought a copy of James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son. The dust jacket says it would have cost me $4.50, brand new, in 1961. Inside the front cover is the stamp of the “Negro Book Club.”
The Negro Book Club, as it turns out, was a subscription service started in Harlem in 1960. In 1963 the Times reported that the club had 4000 members. In August of 1961, when the second printing of my Baldwin book happened