After a particularly bad bout of insomnia, I’m rising up again to wax poetic about bookstores. If you live in a large city, you might not notice the complete dearth of bookstores in many towns across America. Large cities will always cling longer, catering to the hangers-on of niche stuff, the cult-followings.
In places like New Mexico, you will find veritable book wastelands. This is, I suppose, why I was an early ebook user. I could buy books, cheap books, and have them delivered instantly to my reading device. No travel required. No insanely slow media-shipping required. Books! Books! Books! Don’t think about it: just feed the addiction for knowledge! Knowledge! Knowledge!
But sometimes, dammit, I want to visit an actual bookstore, a physical place where I can browse stacks of unruly books. My patience with Roswell, where I’m stuck living for the time being, wears thin. We have no bookstore. The culture here doesn’t support a bookstore. There used to be a Hastings that sold skateboards and coffee, as well as renting videos, but now even that has disappeared with a whisper to the grassland, deserty wind. The smell on the wind here is cattle, not literature. And furthermore, education and book knowledge is not heavily valued in New Mexico, hence our status at the bottom of the states for our school system. Government bureaucrats will tell you this is from a lack of funding, but throwing money into education when nobody cares about it has never been proven to work yet. Rather, they get more after-school programs and food programs. In some areas, they have to continue the school breakfast and lunch programs throughout the summer because kids weren’t getting fed once school was out. That’s a different subject, but it does demonstrate that monetary funding doesn’t inspire people to care, even about fundamentals like feeding their kids, let alone encouraging their kids’ education.
Deep breath. I digress. I love New Mexico. Spaniards used to be big on education, as Catholic culture has historically been big on education. But that’s the same for Anglos — they used to care. They still do, in some areas of the country. New Mexico isn’t one of them. And Roswell, at heart a ranching and farming community, has no pretentions about being high culture.* This regularly frustrates me because the nearest big city in any direction is three hours away. That means the nearest Barnes & Noble’s is three hours away.
Last Sunday, with a desire to get out under the blue skies and hike, we drove to Cloudcroft, a mountain town sitting at 9000 feet elevation. Our plans were quickly derailed, not by the expected cold of the high elevation in February, but by icy, gusty winds. The cold is bearable in New Mexico because the sun is almost perpetually shining, but the winds of late winter and early spring are biting, to say the least. Instead, we ran in the nearest shop, where we bought lukewarm beverages (some coffee shops think 120 degrees is normal) and wandered up a set of twisty stairs because a sign informed us the bookstore was open.
Bookstore! Small, two rooms, piled with books. At the entrance, there were a number of photographs with the proprietor and George R R Martin. How did we know it was the proprietor? The old white-bearded man was glaring at us from behind the glass case that housed collectible books. In fact, most of the shop was filled with collectible books: old Edgar Rice Burroughs and Raymond Chandler with original dust jackets. This place was a treasure house. I was like a kid in a candy store; I wanted to buy everything. There was just one problem. He only took cash, no credit, debit, or checks. And he was not interested in conversation. Or sales, it seemed. This was his domain, a domain of books high up in the mountains. He was the archetypal Mountain Man.
I was disappointed, to say the least, because I had no cash. None of us did. And it got me thinking about everything I’d always wanted in life: this minus the beard and photos with George R R Martin. No need to sale — not even a desire for it, but a space of my own surrounded by unruly books, where I could glare at the world. And then cackle gleefully when the people of the world were unable to buy my coveted collectibles
But before I could express this sentiment, my husband chuckled a little and said he thought I should have a shop like that upon retirement, a place for me, his misanthropic wife. At least he understands me.
*New Mexico has a thriving art community, and Roswell isn’t exempt. For a town lacking almost everything, there are two very high quality art museums. Artists are attracted to the light and landscapes here. There’s really no place like New Mexico.