A fine bookstore, Burton Lysecki Books, sits just around the corner from us. It is literally two blocks away. It took me seven months to turn the corner, past the all-day 7-11, and walk into the store. What I found was relatively astounding. Like many Winnipeg institutions, the outside is extremely unprepossessing. Half-finished siding, a hand-lettered sign, dirty windows and sidewalks filled with sand and snow decorate the store’s exterior. Once inside, I was faced with thousands upon thousands of books, most of them immediately old, aging, and beautifully produced. Whole shelves were filled with now-ancient encyclopedias published by companies that are no longer extant. Other shelves were stacked neatly with gold-edged, leather-bound, small books, at one time issued in series. At the top of one shelf, I saw the entire works of Emerson. I couldn’t reach high enough to pull one of those works down, which seemed apropros. Multiple rooms led to other rooms, some more cramped and claustrophobic and some more open. There were “art” books (with none on “design”) as well as a large area dedicated to “science” and other to “ideas.” (This is the first time I’ve seen a used bookstore with a category called “ideas.”) Sure, there were stacks devoted to science fiction, Penguin fiction, new paperpack fiction, and erotica. There was even, wonderfully amidst the arcania, a collection of 1980s-vintage Playboys, wrapped together in groups of 4 or 5.
Lysecki Books isn’t the only used bookstore in North America. The store, though, is renowned for its superb collections and, from what I understand, well respected among academics and collectors in this city. I used to make a habit of visiting used bookstores years ago in all of the places I’ve resided and visited: Philadelphia; Providence; Boston; Paris; Washington, DC; Krakow; Warsaw; Berlin; Albany; Troy; Brooklyn and Manhattan. I loved feeling the weight of old hardcovers in my hands and knowing that that book held recoverable knowledge that would soon, perhaps, be secretly mine. I loved knowing that troves of information were being archived by the used booksellers of the world and that these purveyors of the written were also the private guards of our collected knowledge.
Today, I felt the immense weight of two bookends squeezing stores just like the one I visited. One bookend is a collection of companies that go by the names of, Chapters, Barnes & Noble and eBay. The other bookend includes the huge, uber-friendly and coffee scented chain stores like Chapters, Barnes & Noble and local large scale retailers. It took me seven months to visit Lysecki Books because I visit, honor, and take tremendous pleasure in the bookends.