Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On Books and Book Court: E.L. Doctorow, Tonight, 7 PM

I stopped by Book Court (163 Court Street) last Friday on my way home. I was delighted to see the fabulous renovation that has dramatically expanded the store’s space. It is airy and light and very comfortable for browsing. Happily, I also bumped into Henry Zook, an owner/buyer, who I think I first met when the store had first opened back in the early 1980s. Henry and I have said hello and chatted from time to time over the years when I visited the store or we crossed paths on Court Street where I have worked, on and off, for many moons. Book Court, which is co-owned by Henry and Mary Gannett is now managed by Zack Zook, their son, who also coordinates events and publicity. Henry informed me that the expanded space was actually formerly the greenhouse of the florist shop that they had expanded into several years ago. (Close your eyes, you can almost smell the flowers.) Zack has coordinated a fabulous schedule of readings. Last week, I missed Amy Sohn reading from her new novel Prospect Park West. Tonight, Tuesday, E.L. Doctorow will be reading from his new novel, Homer and Langley, at 7 PM. James Ellroy (September 30) and Jonathan Lethem (October 20) are among the highlights but just a fraction of the great upcoming events. Event details here.

When I was a lad, during college and for a few years after, I was a clerk and then manager for the old Bookmasters’ chain. Mostly, I worked in the Penn Station store, which gave me a real love for the book business. Although we were a bookstore chain, business was still conducted along an older bookstore business model. I remember the staff being split between wannabe artistes and writers, and other more down-to-earth clerically attuned folks who were earning a living and for whom a book was basically a piece of merchandise (not that there is anything wrong with that; folks have to earn a living).

I became the evening manager (3-11), and learned about the book business. There were enough folks on staff who really loved books and which made it a really special place to work. Occasionally, we had visits by many of the characters who passed through the station, including one of the Ramones (who had an inexplicable interest in self-help books) and a quirky but very learned older British guy, Mr. Dove, who would pop in from time to time, spend the day reading from the shelves, and discoursing on culture. I was mentored by Matt Belmont, who was an old-timer in the book business. My co-workers at the time included the monumentally brilliant artist and writer, the late David Wojnarowicz, poet Donna Masini, musician and poets Brian Butterick and Alex Rodriguez (not the Yankee), among other wonderful folks.

At Book Court the other day, Henry and I were chatting about what we agree is the limitless future of books. No matter how much one reads online, that tactile thing of holding and reading a book made of paper pages and cloth or paper covering, will never lose its excitement or comfort. Book reading is a wonderful tradition that isn’t going anywhere. The big bookstore chains may fill a need, and it is great that so many people are reading. But on my recent visit, I was reminded that if you love books, Book Court is a special place that retains that similar feeling of authenticity, like the scent and feel of fresh paper; a wonderful reminder of how books, when lovingly sold, seem to offer limitless possibilities.

--Brooklyn Beat

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Current Reading

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Current Listening

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