"She learned to read quite early, and at an incredible rate."
-Sarah Stewart, The Library
The above quote describes Elizabeth Brown, the protagonist of children's classic The Library, but it could also easily apply to me, whose dad once remarked that it was a lucky thing toilet paper wasn't printed because, well...I'll leave the rest of that thought to your imagination. I cannot remember a time when I didn't possess a violent affection for the written word, ergo libraries and bookstores will forever be My Happy Place. I love them all- but I love some more than others.
In my opinion, the very best bookshops- NYC's The Strand, Books on the Square in Providence, Vermont's Flying Pig-offer the contradictory pleasures of aimless wandering with expert guidance always at the ready. These shops are organized on quirky lines, with sections entitled Books for a Cold Night, Ephemera, and Local Connections. A customer can (and definitely should!) explore, turning up unsought treasures. But you should also avail yourself of the extremely well-versed service. " Oh, you finished the biography of Grant? Have you seen Boot's The Road Not Taken? I think you'll really enjoy it." Love, Love, LOVE.
Locally, we are blessed with the presence of The Shire Bookshop, a bibliophile's Nirvana of 100,000+ books stuffed into an old mill building. Cozy chairs for curling up with your 'possibles', a cup of tea to warm you up, and the witty, charming, encyclopedic recommendations of the owners all add up to Book Heaven. Thanks to Jack and Jean, I've re-discovered old friends and made plenty of new ones, too. I've never left empty-handed, and I've never left unhappy, which is a pretty amazing track record.
In fact, I love this type of store so much that I've organized my own under similar principles. At Pour Richard's, our selections are hardly mainstream, and our displays can have a touch of whimsy. We want you to poke around, try out a taste of this and that, and leave with a delightful new friend or two. We want to get to know you-what you like, what you don't-and recommend not just a solid selection but the perfect selection for you for this moment on this day.
Wander freely, but bring an excellent guide.