My friend Elizabeth, whom I met in college and who now works for the Department of labor in Washington, visited us today. “Well,” said Elizabeth, “we could either go to the beach, or go to bookstores in Cambridge.” We looked at each other. It was a beautiful fall day, a perfect day for a walk on the beach. We drove to Cambridge.
We started in Central Square. Pandemonium Books had Doris Lessing’s new novel Cleft in paperback. “I always liked her science fiction better than her mainstream novels,” said Elizabeth. So I bought it, along with a magazine and a game and a Terry Pratchet book.
We walked up to Harvard Square and stopped at Revolution Books. I was hoping to find a used paperback copy of Marx’s Kapital because my old copy has started to smell moldy, but they only had the first volume. I got the latest copy of a communist newspaper instead; I figured they’d offer a perspective on the global financial crisis utterly different from the Republicrats (or is it the Demolicans? anyway, the party that has the purple elephant and donkey as their symbols).
Next stop was Harvard Book Store. I found a 1962 paperback edition of a Perry Mason mystery novel, The Case of the Duplicate Daughter, with an outrageous pink cover showing two young blonde women — the cover alone was worth the two bucks I paid for the book. I also got some books for work: Rethinking the Gospels: From Proto-Mark to Mark, Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Rereading American Puritanism, and a couple of others.
From there we walked to McIntyre and Moore Booksellers in Porter Square, which I still think is the absolute best bookstore for used scholarly books in the country. I didn’t get much — just The Crisis of the Standing Order: Clerical Intellectuals and Cultural Authority in Massachusetts, 1780-1833 (another book for work), and a book on subcultural music. Elizabeth, however, bought a lot of books, including an early Beat novel, two books on Quakerism, and a book that traced the intellectual effect of yoga on English-language literature.
“That’s how I first learned about yoga, through literature,” she said to the nice man who rang up her purchases and arranged to ship the books to Washington for her. “I would never find a book like this in Washington, the anti-intellectual capital of the world. What other city could I find a book like this?”
“Maybe Berkeley,” I said. “Cambridge, or Berkeley.”
Having struck our blow against anti-intellectualism in America, we left McIntyre and Moore Booksellers and walked to the subway station. I staggered a bit under the weight of all the books I was now carrying in my canvas bag — human nature may be weak in bookstores, but your arms have to be strong.