Literature abounds with magic bookstores such as J.K. Rowling’s Obscurus Books where Hogwarts buy their texts, and Mr. Koreander’s shop where Michael Ende’s Bastian Bux steals The Neverending Story.
But this column is about real bookstores where real magic happens.
My own experience occurred in a Dutch bookstore where I found a German title on the very stack my husband was leaning against. I’d been searching for more than a year for Sills’ Verhaengnis by Thorsten Tornow and there it was, right under his hand.
Karen Walker, co-owner of Well-Read Books, is familiar with this phenomenon. “Sometimes the book will have come in just that day, even that hour,” she says.
Even more weird was what happened when Walker helped a customer find a rare copy of Robert Service poetry. An internet search returned a volume noted in arcane book dealer terminology as being 48mo, meaning it was three to four inches tall.
To show him an example, Walker took a red leather-bound copy of John Buchan’s Path of the King from a stack of books waiting to be cleaned.
Upon opening it “my jaw dropped to my chin,” she says. “‘You won’t believe this,’ I said to him, ‘because even I don’t, but this book was given to my 80-year-old mother when she was 17’.”
She showed him the title page: Awarded to Grace Edgar by the Bruce County Women’s Christian Temperance Union, 1939. Sunday School Temperance Study Course, Second Senior Prize.
“I was beyond floored,” Walker recalls. “It was a right now in-your-face emotional experience, but at the same time made me laugh because this sort of thing happens here all the time.”
While Well-Read keeps records of book donors for their exchange program, people often just leave books. “We figure it must have come in like that, because we couldn’t trace the donor in our system. It really was a mystery,” says Walker.
The tricks don’t stop there.
Just before Celia McBride started her in-store reading of The Shack Whack and Hannah’s Play in 2009, she was drawn to a copy of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. She’d seen the movie and heard from a friend how terrifying the book was.
During McBride’s reading, the paperback “was pulling me, calling me.” Afterwards, she took it off the shelf and opened it immediately. There on the flyleaf in her father’s handwriting was T.W. McBride, 1969.
“I was in shock, rocketed to another dimension. We’d lived in Whitehorse from 1971-1979, but no one in our family knows how the book ended up at Well-Read thirty years later. I knew then that I was meant to read it.”
Walker believes the magic at Well-Read “speaks to the broad and esoteric reading tastes of Yukoners.”
And the spell books cast over their readers. Let yourself be enchanted.