The Magic of Friendship: Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

E.L. Konigsburg, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (1967)

Konigsburg children's classic friendshipRealizing that I’ve read many, but not all, of E.L. Konigsburg’s fantastically-titled novels, I’ve decided to try to read all fourteen of them in publication order…no deadline. If you’ve any interest in reading along, let me know!

First up is Jennifer, Hecate (etc.), a book that I loved as a child. I identified with the protagonist and narrator, fifth-grader Elizabeth, because I also had trouble making friends after moving to a new town. Unlike her, though, I was not lucky enough to meet the mysterious and fascinating Jennifer, who may or may not be a witch. Elizabeth’s apprenticeship in witchcraft, and its transformation into true friendship, is the central thread of the story.

I accepted the “magical” elements without question as a child; they were simply a source of excitement and mystery. As an adult, though, I found myself pondering the role of witchcraft in the book. For some readers, it may seem strange or alarming that Elizabeth so unhesitatingly accepts Jennifer’s dictates (which, in spite of her admiration for the evil witches of Macbeth, are relatively harmless and often quite funny). But when a person feels powerless against some aspect of fate, it’s tempting to think that destiny can be changed through inner training; this is what Jennifer is actually offering to Elizabeth. I think that both girls actually know that their “magic” goals can’t come to fruition, but as sometimes happens in childhood, they become trapped in the play and don’t know how to get out of it. Konigsburg resolves this problem in a somewhat awkward and abrupt way, but the underlying truth of it remains.

In fact, there is more to this brief story than meets the eye. Barely mentioned in the text (though clear from Konigsburg’s illustrations) is the fact that Elizabeth is white and Jennifer is black, possibly the only black child in the entire school. Elizabeth has been lonely for a couple of months; how long has Jennifer been alone and friendless? What has she had to endure, that has caused her to find refuge in arcane knowledge and esoteric rituals? These questions are never overtly stated or even hinted at, but at the book’s publication in 1967 they would perhaps come more readily to mind than today. Even now, they form a powerful subtext that makes it a real achievement when the girls are finally able to drop their assumed roles and just be ordinary friends.

Though it’s dated in many ways, from children curtsying at the Halloween assembly to mothers unquestioningly supplying raw eggs in milkshakes, what keeps this book timeless is that Konigsburg understands children. She knows their sufferings and their sources of pleasure, their pettiness and their magnanimity, their vulnerability and their resilience. She also knows that they love to laugh, and her idiosyncratic sense of humor is one of the great pleasures of this book. Even when writing about a difficult subject, Konigsburg never loses her sense of hope and trust in the possibilities of the human spirit. That’s why I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her work, and discovering more of her insights into the journey of growing up.

[book-info]

Beautiful Books: Picturing Jane Austen, Part Two

This is Part Two of my series covering different illustrated editions of the six novels of Jane Austen. For Part One, click here.

My earliest Austen acquisition was the 2007 Folio Society edition of Emma, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat, which I purchased as part of my membership renewal. This is one of three matching Austen novels issued in that year, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion being the others. I’ve always wondered why there were no more — was the series never intended to be completed? Did the first volumes not sell well enough to continue? Was the artist too dissatisfied with his own work, or have a disagreement with the publisher? I am not in a position to know, but I’m curious.

To return to the book at hand, Emma is a pleasantly compact volume, with a medallion motif encircling the title on the spine, echoed in the publisher’s logo below and a gold-framed oval portrait of the title character on the front cover. This is set off by the wallpaper-like striped paper that covers the boards. The typeface is Bell, a more rounded and open font than Baskerville (which readers of Part One will remember as a popular choice for other Austen editions). It’s a friendly, appealing book, one that promises us a mannered domestic drama with pretty costumes. This suits the popular conception of Austen’s work, and is true to one layer of it, but misses some of the deeper levels.

Emma Puttapipat

 

Seven full-color illustrations were meticulously done in pen-and-ink and watercolor by the Thailand-born, London-based artist. In this gallery he has posted some of his sketches with notes, which are fascinating; among other tidbits of information he lets us know that he was only really happy with one of the drawings from the book, and dissatisfied with his Austen illustrations overall. I actually find his sketches much livelier and more engaging than the finished illustrations. Of these, the parts that I find most interesting are not the highly detailed figures, but the portions that he allows to be more empty and ambiguous: for example the background of the frontispiece, in which Knightley chastises Emma for her behavior on Box Hill. I admire the illustrations’ technical prowess and find pleasure in exploring all the meticulously drawn details of costume and deportment, yet they seem to lack some inner spark of life.

 

Austen Emma novel Puttapipat

 

Austen Box Hill Puttapipat
Puttapipat’s illustrations of animals (many of which can be found in other sections of his gallery) are absolutely stunning, but his carefully posed compositions do not quite succeed in capturing the complex human drama of Emma. I find myself wondering whether if he could allow himself to use a freer, more sketchy style it would help the characters to breathe more. He has said that he wishes he could have another go at Austen’s work, and I would love to see him make the attempt.
Jane Austen Clarke Hutton

 

Another strikingly striped volume on my shelf is Northanger Abbey, issued by the Limited Editions Club in 1971. This is the largest Austen I own, ironically as it’s her shortest and in some ways slightest novel. I think a smaller size would be much more suitable, not just for this reason, or to make the book easier to handle and read, but because it would be more appropriate to the story. Northanger Abbey is a light comedy that one wants to keep close for easy enjoyment, not a weighty tome to keep on one’s coffee table for show. The binding of unusual multicolored striped satin, which the publisher chose as worthy to be “draped over the windows of the finest hall of Northanger Abbey,” I would also find more amusing if only there were less of it.

 

 

I do greatly appreciate the beautiful custom-made heavy paper and luxurious letterpress printing within. The typeface again is Bell, and its friendly, open feel is better suited to the comedy of Northanger Abbey than to Emma, which is a more serious and mature book. I find the curved ligatures used for “st” and “ct” to be a bit much, however. Especially when they occur in clusters, as with the example above, they give me the impression of a visual hiccup. I’m also not fond of the display type, Fontanesi, used for the title and for initial caps for each chapter. As far as I can discover, it was designed in the 1950s as a “retro” style, unlike the genuine 18th century Bell and Baskerville. I suppose this was meant as a nod to the mock-Gothic pastiche of the novel, but it ventures too far into circus territory for me. As for the swash capitals used for the page headers — who thought this was a good idea? Well, I suppose for 1971 it all seemed quite restrained.

 

Jane Austen Clarke Hutton

 

Jane Austen Clarke Hutton

 

The highlight here is the abundant illustrations, with twelve color plates in addition to the black-and-white drawings scattered throughout each chapter. The artist, Clarke Hutton, has a fluid and lively drawing style that lends a light comic touch, while in the paintings his strong yet subtle use of color and lighting brings the Gothic elements of the story to the fore. Hutton spent the first ten years of his career in stage design, an experience that shows in his dramatic compositions. I’m glad he put his hand to Northanger Abbey, a book that (though I may wish it were two-thirds of the size) I will certainly enjoy for many years.

I hope you’ll join me for the last post in this series, in which I’ll look at Mansfield Park (Folio Society, 1960; reset 1975; 1991 printing), and Persuasion (Heritage Press, 1977).

Summary of book details:

Emma
Published by The Folio Society, London, 2007
Introduction by Deirdre Le Faye
Illustrations by Niroot Puttapipat
Set in Bell
9 x 6.25 inches, 432 pages
Printed on Abbey Wove paper and bound in cloth with Modigliani paper sizes blocked and printed with a design by the artist

More about Puttapipat’s Austen illustrations on Austenprose 

* * *

Northanger Abbey
Published by the Limited Editions Club, New York, 1971
Introduction by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Illustrations by Clarke Hutton
Set in Monotype Bell with Fontanesi display
11 x 7.5 inches, 210 pages
Printed on eggshell-finish paper custom-made by the Mohawk Paper Company and bound in
satin-finish fabric with a leather shelfback label printed in gold

Review on Books and Vines (with much better pictures than mine)

Beautiful Books: Picturing Jane Austen, Part One

fine Austen editions

In my book collecting this year, I went a little nuts. I already owned Jane Austen’s Emma in the most recent Folio Society edition (illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat), but a few months ago the FS published a new edition of Pride and Prejudice with fabulous illustrations by Elena and Anna Balbusso and I just had to have it. Now I would have two oddly assorted Austens on my shelf. What if I could find completely different illustrated editions of each of Austen’s other four novels, breaking the mold of the traditional uniform set? Would the result be pleasingly varied, or just weird?

I had great fun seeking out these different editions, and except for my first two splurges, none of them set me back more than $20. Here follows my take on each book’s binding, typography, and illustrations. I didn’t find any of them completely successful across the board, but there is something that I love about each one, so I would call the project a success.

Going into detail about all six books was making my post too long, so I’ve split it into three parts. Today, I’ll be considering the 2013 Folio Society edition of Pride and Prejudice, and the 1957 Heritage Press edition of Sense and Sensibility.

First up is my new baby, Pride and Prejudice. With a swashy binding design and glittery gold background (hard to capture with my camera — take my word for it, it’s GOLD) this is a book that’s aiming to make a statement. It’s a bit too flashy for me, and I don’t think it suits the book; with all his wealth, Darcy is not one to spend it in an ostentatious way, and Elizabeth is not a princess swanning around in foamy lace and diamond tiaras. I think that a plain matte color would have been more appropriate, and fewer swashes would not hurt.

 

Austen Balbusso

 

Fortunately, this flashiness does not extend to the book’s interior. The typography has nothing outstanding about it, but is quiet and respectable, allowing the text to speak without distraction. The eight full-page, full-color illustrations, printed on textured paper, are the main attraction. I wrote last month about the Balbusso sisters and their work, and what I said then definitely applies here: “The Balbusso sisters bring a bold, stylized approach to the problem of illustrating fiction, which is the question of how to bring out both the visual and the psychological aspects of the story, the outer and the inner.” Figures are carefully positioned for maximum dramatic effect, almost like a staged tableau, while contrasting natural forms and visible brushwork lend life and movement. The Balbussos’ formal sense of composition and careful use of color lead the eye through the image to “read” the narrative embedded within.

 

Folio Pride and Prejudice

 

Through each page conceived as a whole, we see Elizabeth’s discomfort when dancing with Darcy, her archness when playing the pianoforte in his hearing, her consternation on reading his letter. It’s a masterful visualization of a book that has been interpreted in so many ways by so many artists — on page, stage, and screen — that it might seem impossible to look at it afresh. Yet the Balbussos succeed, and brilliantly.

A quite different and very unusual approach was taken by Helen Sewell with her illustrations for the 1957 Heritage Press edition of Sense and Sensibility. She was the only Austen illustrator I found who seriously departed from a naturalistic portrayal, and who did not try to make her subjects look pretty. I find this highly appropriate for Austen, who, however much we may think of her as a creator of colorful costume dramas, was actually writing about some of the uglier sides of human nature, and — unlike her imitators — spent very little time describing what anybody was wearing.

 

 

 

Sewell’s stark, dramatic images, printed in somber dark green ink, are not comforting eye candy. They can be strange and startling, and some readers may dislike them for that reason. I found them a interesting attempt at portraying what few artists have dared to approach: the disquieting truths and uncomfortable emotions that lurk within Austen’s novels. After all, Sense and Sensibility contains some thoroughly unlikeable characters, and its central struggle between passion and prudence is not quite satisfactorily resolved. Sewell’s primitive, monumental figures lend both gravity and a quirky kind of humor to this edition, suitable for what Stella Gibbons in her introduction calls “a tragi-comedy.”

 

Austen Sense Heritage Press

 

Sense and Sensibility is also outstanding for its typography. The classic Baskerville typeface was chosen for the text, while a engraving-style calligraphic display font elegantly evokes the period. After the first chapter with its monumental drop capital, chapter headings are pleasingly inset just the right amount, with perfectly proportioned small caps for the first few words. Traditional design elements are infused with a clean, modern sensibility, an excellent foil for the illustrations. These are usually incorporated into the text in various ways rather than being segregated on their own separate pages — as with the top spread above, which portrays Edward’s musings about his choice of a profession (or rather lack of one) in graphic form directly below the appropriate text.

Pride and Prejudice also uses Baskerville for its text, an unexceptionable choice, but has boringly centered chapter headings and page numbers, which are enlivened only by some generic swashes (again). It’s a less sophisticated, less subtle design. Although Austen’s heroines are always striving for balance, it’s not an easy path, and does not involve equally weighted choices; Sense and Sensibility‘s asymmetrical, slightly off-kilter page layout reminds us of this, without saying a word.

 

Austen Heritage Folio
Sense vs. Pride: Pleasingly asymmetrical vs. boringly centered.

 

The binding design for Sense and Sensibility could have been more imaginative; I would love to have seen an artistic design rather than a drab printed paper that seems to have nothing to do with the period or the book. However, I love the typography of the spine, which is again simple, elegant, and perfectly proportioned. I was very happy to add this fine book to my library.

I hope you’ll join me again for more in this series. Future posts will cover Northanger Abbey (Limited Editions Club, 1971), Mansfield Park (Folio, 1975/1991), Persuasion (Heritage Press, 1977), and Emma (Folio, 2007).

Summary of book details:

Pride and Prejudice
Published by the Folio Society, London, 2013
Introduction by Sebastian Faulks
Illustrations by Anna and Elena Balbusso
Set in Baskerville with Trajan display
9.5 x 6.25 inches, 352 pages
Printed on Abbey Wove paper and bound in buckram stamped with a design by the artists

Folio Society page
More images on the Ispot

 

***

Sense and Sensibility
Published by the Heritage Press, New York, 1957
Introduction by Stella Gibbons
Illustrations by Helen Sewell
Set in Baskerville, display type unknown
9.5 x 6.5 inches, 324 pages
Paper unknown; bound in cloth with printed paper sides

Review on AustenOnly

 

Back from the Past: Lost literary treasures return

Crete Daedalus Atlantis children's

Isn’t it frustrating to hear about a book that sounds fantastic but is out of print and hard to find? Such is the case with The Winged Girl of Knossos, which Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production just put at the top of her list of “Underrated Middle School Books.” This 1934 Newbery Honor book, which posits that the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur is based on true events, that Daedalus had a daughter who was pals with Ariadne, and that the legend of Atlantis is actually about ancient Crete, sounds like too much fun.

Alas, it also costs upward of $150 when searched for online, and is not available in my library. What to do? I can only hope that it gets picked up by one of the publishing houses and imprints that specialize in bringing back out-of-print children’s books. These seem to have been cropping up more and more these days, for whatever reason. Here are a few that have come to my attention, and please share any others that you know of.

fantasy NYRB Maria Gripe

The New York Review Children’s Collection was created in 2003 by the venerable New York Review of Books, “to reward readers who have long wished for the return of their favorite titles and to introduce those books to a new generation of readers.” Readers can submit titles for consideration on their website — guess what I suggested. One of their recent releases is Leon Garfield’s Smith, which I reviewed last week; other favorites of mine include James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks and The Wonderful O; John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk and The Box of Delights; the D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths; Esther Averill’s Jenny and the Cat Club; E. Nesbit’s The House of Arden; and Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War. They have many other titles I haven’t read but that sound wonderful — like their newest offering, The Glassblower’s Children. Produced as sturdy hardbacks with attractive covers and distinctive red cloth spines, these are books to keep and love for many years.

children's fantasy classic

Purple House Press is a more grassroots effort, started by Jill Morgan and Ray Saunders in 2000 specifically to bring Jill’s favorite children’s book, Mr. Pine’s Purple House, back into print. They have since published more than 35 titles and sold over 350,000 books. Some of my personal favorites are David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd, which I first encountered as a read-aloud book for my third graders when I was a student teacher at the Smith College Campus School; Time at the Top and All in Good Time, also by Ormondroyd; and Mio My Son and The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren (alas, these have gone out of print again). Many other quirky and nostalgic treasures are to be found; browse their list to see if any of your childhood favorites have made it there.

Uttley historical fantasy

Jane Nissen Books is a UK imprint that was created by a former associate editor of Penguin Books  upon her retirement (according to this Guardian article). Now, that’s how I’d like to retire! One of her launch titles was Mistress Masham’s Repose, T.H. White’s engrossing tale of Lilliputians in England; other favorite English classics she’s brought back are Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince. If you’re not in the UK it can be tricky to find the books, but some are available from The Book Depository; there’s also some overlap with the NYRB list (which includes Mistress Masham’s Repose and A Traveller in Time). With an emphasis on historical fiction, fantasy, adventure, and whimsical humor, there’s lots to covet on this list.

Slightly Foxed Memoirs Raverat
from Period Piece

Slightly Foxed Editions is not mainly a children’s list, but specializes in memoirs; these naturally often include funny, lyrical, or dramatic evocations of childhood. I’m a proud owner of SF Edition #16, Look Back with Love by Dodie Smith, author of the splendid I Capture the Castle, and as you might expect it’s a hilarious account of an eccentric upbringing. Others I have my eye on are Period Piece by Gwen Raverat, Darwin’s granddaughter and a renowned artist in her own right; and Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliff, the acclaimed historical novelist. Each numbered Edition is printed as a finely produced small hardback with a different solid-color cover, in a limited run of 2000 copies. When they run out some have been reprinted in paperback, but otherwise, when they’re gone, you’re out of luck. A new line of Slightly Foxed Cubs has been added, which at the moment consists of a series of historical novels that follows the same British family from the Crusades through the First World War. None of these offerings are cheap, but if it comes from Slightly Foxed you know it’s of the very highest quality.

reprint YA vintage

Lizzie Skurnick Books is the newest entry on this list, started last year by one seriously cool blogger, writer, critic and teacher who loves vintage YA books. She wrote a column for Jezebel.com, then a book, Shelf Discovery, then launched her own imprint, proving that publishing is NOT dead; can you imagine this happening prior to the 21st century? I have yet to read a single one of her selections, but they look like a fascinating and eclectic bunch. They range from the classic All-of-a-Kind Family series that chronicles the story of a Jewish immigrant family on the Lower East Side, to And This Is Laura by Ellen Conford, about an “ordinary” girl in an overachieving family who discovers she has the not-so-ordinary ability to see the future, to A Long Day in November by Ernest J. Gaines, about life on a sugarcane plantation in the 1940s through a child’s eyes. Ms. Skurnick clearly has a very slick visual sense as well, and it was interesting to read her blog post about the design decisions made in creating the imprint. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Do you have other lost classics or other publishers who reprint them (either for children or adults) to share? Please do tell!

Out of the Gutter: Smith

Leon Garfield, Smith: The Story of a Pickpocket (1967)

But there was great determination in him. Each fresh disaster he endured seemed to strengthen his bond with the document…and whatever it might contain. In a way, it seemed to be payment in advance.

Leon Garfield historical

“Dickensian” is a word freely tossed about in describing a certain strain of literature, but Smith is one of the rare books that actually deserves it. (It’s no accident that another of the author’s works is a completion of The Mystery of Edwin Drood). A singularly stylish adventure story for young readers, set in the raucous milieu of eighteenth century London, it seems less an imitation of the master than a natural extension of his work, and that of earlier comic novelists like Fielding and Smollett.

Twelve-year-old Smith is an accomplished pickpocket, but he gets more than he bargained for when he takes some papers from an old country gentleman just moments before he’s murdered by two sinister men in brown. Smith wants to know what is in the dangerous documents that must be so supremely valuable…but he can’t read! And so he sets out on a determined quest for knowledge, which takes him to places beyond his dreams (or nightmares): a fine gentleman’s house, where he is memorably washed for the first time perhaps since birth; Newgate prison, from which he finds a most unusual mode of escape; Finchley Common, where he takes part in an exciting chase worthy of his most revered highwaymen heroes.

Smith‘s pace never slackens for a moment, as the reader becomes as desperate as Smith himself to know what is in those dratted documents, but Garfield keeps us guessing till the very end. He writes as if he were discovering the story rather than creating it, and it’s this exuberant, conversational style that redeems the absurdly improbable plot, and brings a true comic sensibility to what otherwise might have been a grim and somber tale. Here’s a sample, from Smith’s early attempts to find someone who will teach him to read:

Very educated gentlemen, the debtors. A man needs to be educated to get into debt. Scholars all. The first Smith tried was a tall, fine-looking gentleman who, though still in leg-irons, walked like he owned the jail — as well he might, for his debts could have bought it entire.

He smiled; he was never at a loss for a smile. . . which was, perhaps, why he was there; when a man can’t pay what he owes, a smile is a deal worse than nothing!

“Learn us to read, mister!” said Smith, humbly.

The fine debtor stopped, looked — and sighed.

“Not in ten thousand years, my boy!” and, before Smith could ask him why, he told him.

“Be happy that you can’t! For what will you get by it? You’ll read and fret over disasters that might never touch you. You’ll read hurtful letters that might have passed you by. You’ll read warrants and summonses where you might have pleaded ignorance. You’ll read of bills overdue and creditors’ anger — where you might have ignored it all for another month! Don’t learn to read, Smith! Oh! I implore you!”

Then the gentleman drifted, smiling, away, with his back straight, his head held high — and his ankles jingling.

There are other rollicking historical novels for young people out there; I already know and love those by Joan Aiken, Philip Pullman, and Lloyd Alexander, to name a few. Garfield’s distinctive narrative voice was new to me, though, and I found it charming and intriguing. I’ll definitely be seeking out more of this author’s work; he deserves a second look.

A Folio Society edition is also available

Review copy source: Print book from library
1987 Phoenix Award Winner
Classics Club List #5

[book-info]

My life in bookstores

Robin McKinley’s author bio in her early books used to say that she kept track of her life according to what she was was reading in various locations; she traveled around quite a bit as a child because her father was in the navy. I didn’t have such an exotic upbringing, but I find that I have strong memories associated with the bookstores located in the places where I’ve lived. Here are some of my favorites. Please share yours!

Island Books Etc., Mercer Island, WA

bookstore Mercer Island
Just like I remember it from the 1980s.

This was the only bookstore in the suburb where I lived from third grade till college, so I spent a lot of time there. It had (and still has) a pretty good general book selection, cool magazines, paper goods and greeting cards, and a nice children’s department. It was just around the corner from my dentist’s office and I got to go there frequently for a non-cavity-causing treat after dental work. Another memory: when I was about ten they had a contest to name their new children’s book department. I don’t remember what my entry was, but I’m sure it couldn’t be more boring than the winner: “Children’s Books Etc.” Oh, please.

University Book Store, Seattle and Bellevue, WA

bookstore Seattle University

The U-district was the place to go when I was a teenager, and no visit was complete (for me anyway) without a trip to this mecca run by the University of Washington. The office and art supplies were an attraction as well as the excellent selection of general, children’s, SFF, and scholarly books. The Bellevue branch store opened at some point in those years as well, and I worked there in the pre-Christmas season for a few years, learning useful gift-wrapping skills. One year absolutely everybody was buying Possession in hardback and the pre-Raphaelite cover is engraved on my brain.


Powell’s City of Books, Portland, OR

bookstore Portland

Okay, I never actually lived in Portland, more’s the pity, but it was worth the three-hour trip just to go to the massive Powell’s. If you can’t find it here, you’re not looking. By the way, if you use the “Search at Powell’s” function on this site and buy anything from them, I’m an affiliate and get a small percentage, which I will spend on more books from Powell’s. Support independent bookstores!

Carleton College Bookstore, Northfield, MN

bookstore Northfield Minnesota college
Carleton’s Sayles-Hill Campus Center

I mostly bought textbooks and sweatshirts in the basement during my four years at Carleton, but the upstairs general books department was always good for a browse. I remember eyeing the Penguin paperbacks of Robertson Davies’s novels there for years and then finally buying Tempest-Tost when I was a senior — the start of a long love affair with that wonderful author.

The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

Seattle bookstore Pioneer Square

When I moved back to Seattle after college, I could take the bus or even walk downtown from my Madison Park house, and I would frequently end up at this Pioneer Square landmark. As well having a fantastic store and cafe they also hosted author readings and visits practically every other day. I saw Ursula K. LeGuin and Denise Levertov here, among others. The historic neighborhood went severely downhill, however, and a few years ago they decided they had to move or die. I haven’t yet visited their new Capitol Hill location, but I do hope it keeps them afloat.


The Sunbridge College Bookstore, Chestnut Ridge, NY

Waldorf bookstore New York
Sadly, this sign is no more.

I probably spent more time in this store than in any of the others combined, because I worked there part-time for seven years while attending Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge College and then the eurythmy training at Eurythmy Spring Valley. My manager, who took over the store the year I arrived, was an eccentric but brilliant woman who tripled the size of the store and turned it from a dumpy corner of the Threefold Auditorium building into a jewel-toned, artfully arranged oasis. In quiet times when she was not around I got to spend many happy hours perusing the small but carefully-chosen stock of books on spirituality, education, the arts and crafts, and more. Another casualty of the internet age, after I left it had to drastically reduce its stock and move into Meadowlark Toys and Crafts, the end of a brief but memorable heyday.


Books of Wonder, New York, NY

children's bookstore new york

There are lots of great bookstores in New York, of course, but I was a fan of Books of Wonder before I even moved to the area. For a while I was a member of their collector’s club, and always loved perusing their catalog of used and rare titles. As well as being one of the best children’s bookstores you’ll find anywhere, for several years they collaborated with the William Morrow publishing house to bring some classics back into print including works by E. Nesbit and L. Frank Baum. These are sadly now mostly out of print, but they still offer the complete Oz series in hardcover, which I’ve had my eye on for some time.

Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, NH

bookstore Peterborough New Hampshire
Don’t let the rather unprespossessing exterior put you off.

A year ago I moved to what some friends rather uncharitably called “the boonies,” but with this super independent bookstore just 15 minutes away, what more do I need? There are two other locations in the Toadstool mini-chain, in Keene and Milford, but this one is my favorite. It has a large used book department as well, and I pretty much never leave the store without buying something there. My latest score was the first U.S. edition of The Neverending Story, with its unusual two-color printing that identifies the two parts of the story (in our world and Fantastica). I’m sure I’ll find many more treasures there in the years to come.

Have you been to any of these? What did you think? What are your favorite bookstores?