Is your vacation bookshop still there? Mine is gone.

Opinion, Uncategorized August 10, 2012 1 Comment


No one's home at Mr. Paperback.

by Hugh Gilmore

Our Maine vacation is the only time all year when I’ll read a book in the daytime. Notice I say, “book.” I read all day back home, but only short stuff – newspapers, magazines, Internet information and so on, almost all of it in the guise of “work.” But not books.

Books seem significant in a way that all those short pieces do not. They require time and a willingness to give over my schedule and stop living my life in short well-defined installments. They engage my attention for a longer time than movies or music.

And I enjoy them so much I can’t help but think of them as my day’s-end reward. Work first, then pleasure. Neither can happen without the other. Earned pleasure is more satisfying than empty leisure.

Except during a Maine vacation. For 25 years we’ve been lucky enough to borrow “Cousin Jeannie’s cottage” in Lincolnville, overlooking a pond at the end of a long gravel road. Every year I step out of the car, breathe deeply of the fresh air, look at the sparkle of sunlight on the water, and head, as soon as I can, for my favorite deck chair and start reading. Daytime book reading: the first sign of moral degeneracy!

If my back, neck, arms and eyes could stand it I’d read all day long in Maine. But they can’t, so I take body/mind refreshment breaks by noticing the family who’ve been kind enough to keep me company on the drive up here.

I’m very amenable in Maine. I’ll do anything anyone else wants to do. And do it cheerfully, knowing that sooner or later they’ll tire and need to take their north woods naps. Then I’m back to my book until interrupted again.

Ah, fresh air. Ah, the sight of blue spruce. And ah, after 5 p.m., a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou, my latest book!

Any reader worth his salt, or her sugar, knows that planning only takes you so far when it comes to vacation reading. Unless you are a re-reader (which I am not), you don’t know whether you’ll like a book until you read it. As bad wine can spoil a meal, a dull book can ruin a hammock lie.

The question always is: how many books do I take along this time? Since we drive, I can allow for bad prejudgment by throwing some extras into the trunk of the car. But even that noncommittal approach has limits. My spouse, Janet, is a Reny’s (a discount store) devotee, my son Andrew is a 78-rpm record collector, and I am a used and rare book dealer always looking for merchandise. (This is one area where Kindles, which can store hundreds of books in a little tablet-sized device, have the advantage over printed books.)

There is a Plan B, however: a trip to town to go shopping. The others may go where they want – I’m heading toward the bookshops. Maine is so abundant with used books that if you stopped at every place with a “Books” sign on Routes 1 or 3 you’d never get where you’re going.

Some of these places have antiquarian books and some only carry dog-eared paperbacks. I’ll brake for rare books I can resell, but skip by the book barns. When I’m looking for something recent to read, I try to support the retail shops by buying there. And many of the small towns in Maine, at least those that get a decent tourist trade, have a retail bookstore tucked away somewhere.

Since we stay near mid-coastal Lincolnville, our shopping expeditions take us south to Camden and north to Stockton Springs, with visits to all towns in between. Most often we got to the charming two-traffic-light town of Belfast. Over the years we’ve enjoyed its good restaurants, movie theater, Salvation Army Thrift Store and The Fertile Mind bookshop.

Last year we drove into town and The Fertile Mind was closed – a real estate office in its place. The owners retired to the Caribbean. Oh well, much better than the usual demised-bookstore story of revenues killed by the Internet and eBooks while rents continued to rise. I was disappointed but glad for the owners, two people who’d steered me to many enjoyable reads over the years.

I had a Plan C: drive over to Reny’s Plaza and visit Mr. Paperback and its adjoining Bell The Cat cafe. I did that and found the last copy of Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad.” An enjoyable read. A daytime read, I must add. Thank goodness for Mr. Paperback, I thought.

Then a few days ago, Cousin Jeannie called to reaffirm our coming visit to Maine, and she added: “Oh, I thought I should tell you because I know you go there, Mr. Paperback closed. And Bell the Cat moved.”

Gulp. Mr. Paperback had 10 stores in Maine. After 50 years, the owners were forced to close. Internet, Amazon, eBooks and raised rents, according to the news stories I Googled. Now where would I go for new books while up in Vacationland?

The town of Camden is no longer an option. It still has a good used bookshop, ABCdef, but the great little The Turtle and Owl new books shop closed a little while ago (lowered revenues/raised rents).

Plan D: I’ll have to drive to Searsport and stop at The Left Bank, a classy little red brick building on the way to Bangor. The Left Bank is the only store I know of in our section of Maine that sells new books. I hope it’s still there when I visit a week from now. Or that some young-at-heart optimist has decided to give retail bookselling a go. I’ll find him or her if so.

P.S. I read Sunday morning in Section B of the Inquirer that one of our region’s best independent bookstores, Chester County Book and Music Co., has decided to close. The cause: high rent and income hurt by Internet sales, eBooks and Amazon. As much as I lament, I plead guilty to all three trends of modern book buying. Still it’s a shame that the end game for many retail book businesses seems to be shaping up this way.

Hugh owns and operates Gilmore’s Books in Chestnut Hill, specializing in antiquarian books. He is also author of the acclaimed vacation read “Malcolm’s Wine,” a bibliomystery, and the story collection, “Scenes from a Bookshop.” Both are available through bookshops and Amazon.com in paperback or Kindle formats.

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  • Joe Carey, Belfast

    Yes, it’s a shame that the Mr. Paperback chain has closed. The Belfast store was actually gettng by financially, and it’s sorely missed. Bell the Cat has moved to roomier quarters not far away. The Left Bank bookstore has just moved to downtown Belfast. But there are other bookstores downtown: the Old Professor’s Bookshop; Bellabooks, which was offering a 25% discount on new books the last I checked; and Artisan Books & Bindery. The shop Beyond the Sea also offers a selection of books. Each summer they get together to put on the Belfast Bound Book Festival. Not bad for a city of about 6,700!