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Posts Tagged ‘David Madden’

The balcony at the Midtown Scholar bookstore

My family spent Saturday at the Renaissance Faire amid beautiful, hot summer weather. I will post about the faire and provide some of the photos we took later, but first I want to mention the bookstore in Harrisburg we visited on Sunday.

The Midtown Scholar is a dozen blocks beyond the state capitol and the massive white stone buildings of the state museum and the other monumental structures with green domes that dwarf the streets around the capitol. On Sunday the whole area was almost deserted.

We parked and walked around for a half hour before the bookstore opened at noon. I felt some of the vibes of excitement at walking down streets of shops and old apartment buildings, but my daughters seemed put off by the few street people and some of the signs of decay and urban blight. I noticed a man living in his car on one of the side streets, and someone had pitched a tent in an empty lot and seemed to be living there. Harrisburg is a city on the edge of bankruptcy, and parts of the downtown show the strain of the long recession.

The Midtown Scholar is a huge bookstore housed in a deceptively unassuming store front. We weren’t quite sure what to expect as we joined the small crowd waiting for the doors to open. It is not a typical bookstore, as the name might have indicated. Nine tenths of the books are research oriented, university press books, many of them first-hand, some rare or hard-to-find. I wandered for an hour in the classical history section, looking for a book I might actually read about Greece and Rome, but the ones I would have liked to have were too expensive, and the hundreds of other books were too specialized. I spent another hour in the literature section, and found books about authors I wanted to read, but no books by those authors.

Which is not to say that there were not plenty of books to dazzle the eye and make me salivate at the thought of owning them. But I will be very old before I have time to sit down with the book of critical essays on the southern writer David Madden, whose novel Bijou about a boyhood spent at the movies I’ve wanted to read for 20 years, since I was a writing student at LSU. No books by the author, just books about him. It’s that kind of bookstore. We have Amazon and all the other online booksellers for those things.

I sat down with an art book from the spectacular art section and studied the strange paintings and drawings of Egon Schiele, a German Expressionist painter who died in his twenties near the end of World War I. I had seen and admired a print of one of his paintings in an art shop in Berkeley, California when we lived on the West Coast. My wife was taking some kind of art class, and we would drive across the Bay Bridge one evening a week and while she was in class, I would go to a café or wander through shops along Shattuck Avenue, near the UC Berkeley campus. Schiele’s work is truly strange and erotic, twisted even, certainly not for everyone. He was precocious, like the poet Rimbaud. Some of the portraits he painted as a teenager are stunning, and you have to wonder where he might have gone if he had lived to be Picasso’s age.

The bookshop has a nice little coffee bar with a few food items. I took a café au lait with me to the second floor balcony and watched the people come and go. One man was there in his usual place (so I imagined) with his lap top and his dog at his feet. The odd lady sat on a stool at the coffee bar, trying to engage everyone who passed in conversation, a little madly. But that is the city, and when you haven’t spent time in one for a long while, it can all seem a little weird.

We left in the late afternoon with nearly a dozen books, which we will try to find a place for in our overflowing bookshelves. I bought that book of the life of Dickens that I borrowed from the library and wept over. There was also the book about Tolkien and how his experiences in the Great War shaped the Lord of the Rings, which looks like a fascinating read. So many books and so little time.

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