December 24th, 2008


Happy Things: The platonic ideal of the bookstore

[Happy birthday to svava!]

Today's project was an inefficient and quixotic shopping trip -- just the kind we like best. Following lunch with hungrytiger, we set out (via T, to avoid the insane traffic) to check out a few used CD shops, to begin the process of replacing our LPs. The highlight of the trip, though, was an unplanned side-stop: since we were in Porter Square anyway, to check out Stereo Jack's, we decided to check out the new location of McIntyre and Moore.

It occurs to me to me that some members of my flist may be too new to Boston to have encountered Mc and Moore, or may simply have gone through life the poorer for never having found it. So let me sing its praises.

Mc and Moore is, for my money, the best bookstore on Earth. It is the used bookstore that reminds us of why used bookstores are, at their best, the finest bookstores. It is the only bookstore that I personally treat as a destination. It used to be in Harvard Square; then it moved to Davis Square; currently it sprawls across a maze of basements in Porter Square. Regardless, I'll always stop there when I'm nearby -- and sometimes I'll make an outing just for it, and maybe hit other things along the way.

It's by no stretch of the imagination the largest -- I have gotten lost in the Strand long enough that they had to send sherpas and St. Bernards out after me, and indeed, even many fairly crappy used bookstores are larger. I've come to find these gigantic used bookstores more annoying than anything else: more books does not mean *better* books, it just makes it hard to find the good ones. No, what sets Mc and Moore apart is the selection.

This is a bookstore run by scholars for scholars. It's not the place to go looking for fiction, new or old. It *is* the place to go for serious, hardcore SCAdian geekery, with a carefully chosen selection. One entire long wall is just the history section, starting with a couple of floor-to-ceiling bookcases of ancient history, then four or five of medieval, then a couple more of renaissance, and then breaking out country-by-country for the more modern stuff. It takes me an hour just to browse my way down that section, looking at the cool toys. And that's just history: it has a room for Art and Architecture, one for Archaeology, a big long Religion and Theology section, and ever so much more.

Today's haul was typical and illustrative. I got a history of 400 years of sports and games in North America (a glitzy limited-edition facsimile of a 1931 work); a history of croquet (OOP, but it comes up frequently enough that I should have the facts to hand); the EETS edition of Caxton's translation of Christine de Pisan's Booke of Fayttes of Armes; and The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (I'm intrigued Theravada Buddhism, and this looks like one of the more interesting texts). We did *not* pick up the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, the old edition of Ibn Battuta, or the Glossary of Tudor and Stewart Terms, although all came close. Like I said: toys.

It's not much for atmosphere (like I said, it's currently sprawling across a basement), but really -- just go. If you have any interest in history, or indeed in most any non-fiction subjects, it's well worthwhile. This is the local bookseller that I support not merely out of principle, but because it damned well deserves it, because it's simply that much better than anywhere else I know...