When I was young, my parents became friends with Bill and Roddy Cleary, owners of the first bookstore that I ever experienced. The name of the shop was Hopkins. Bill Cleary was a former Jesuit. The store was named after another Jesuit—and poet—Gerard Manley Hopkins [for a poem by Hopkins, see below]. So, really my parents fell in with fellow Catholics and poetry lovers at the same time (not to mention musicians; Mr. Cleary, who had a fine sense of humor and an encyclopedic knowledge of show tunes, had once entertained some important group for an evening when their regularly scheduled entertainment fell through. When the night was over he was offered cash or the piano and he took the piano. I always thought that was the height of musicianship and showmanship).
Hopkins Bookshop was located at the time on Church Street—the most important mercantile street in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Church Street has a perfectly symmetrical, beautifully proportioned brick Unitarian Church at the head of it, and at some point in my childhood, the first four blocks in front of the church were turned into a pedestrian zone. At any rate, it meant something if you were on Church Street, and still does. Perhaps the Clearys were the first successful Burlington entrepreneurs I knew, as well as the first bookstore owners.
Hopkins was a bright and colorful place, with some lines from Gerard Manley Hokins painted on the walls. It was an ecumenical bookshop, with a large variety of religious books, and some not explicitly religious books as well. It had a very good children’s section, one that seemed to grow with us. As we graduated from children’s picture books, Hopkins was there with the next level. It helped the selection that the Clearys had two children our own age, and of similar interests. (Full disclosure: my mother also did the bookkeeping for them for many years). As a result, I grew up feeling that bookstores would always hold something new and special—something I might chance upon in the book stalls, or that might be recommended by one of the shopkeepers.
Mr. Gibbs Smith, founder of Gibbs Smith, Publishers (more full disclosure: they are one of Toppan Printing Company’s clients), has made a book called The Art of the Bookstore, which includes a number of bookstores that Gibbs Smith has admired, and painted, over the years. The original Borders, of Ann Arbor, Michigan is in there. As is the flagship Barnes and Noble in New York City. So is Kramerbooks, Washington, D.C., Vroman’s in Pasadena, California, the small Cottage Book Shop in Glen Arbor, Michigan, The Tattered Cover in Denver, Colorado, even Shakespeare & Co. in Paris and El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires (in the splendor of a former opera house, no less). Of bookstores, Smith writes: “All I can say is I can feel a personality in each [book]store that I visit. It’s more than an individual. It’s more than the physical location. It’s almost magical. The store develops a personality.”
Smith’s homage also reminds me of what a delight bookstore names can be. It seems there is some law somewhere that states: when you name a hairdresser, you must use a pun (e.g. The Mane Event, The Cutting Edge). With bookstores, the names seem fitting, as to be expected from lovers of the printed word. For instance: Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary and Garden Arts, in Berkeley, Three Lives and Company, New York City, Page and Palette, Fairhope, Alabama, The Stately Raven Bookstore, in Findlay, Ohio, the Learnéd Owl, Hudson, Ohio.
I am pleased to say that Hopkin’s Bookshop is still in business (www.hopkinsbookshop.com). It is now located in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, three or four blocks from Church Street. The Clearys no longer own it, but they have sold it to an individual who is just as passionate about books as they were. And so a literary vestige of my childhood soldiers on. Independent bookstores, and lately the chains, have been battered. But many survive. And some thrive. It is the passion for books—and the tradition of the ancient profession of bookselling—that convince me A Journey Through Literary America will do well in the marketplace. TRH
“It was clear that the books owned the shop and not the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down”.
(Agatha Christie, The Clocks – one of the selected quotes on the subject of books in The Art of the Bookstore)
Gerard Manley Hopkins
“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw flame”
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Note: One key to unlocking the above poem is Hopkins’s concept of “inscape”- a unique God-given quality in each creature (sort of like “landscape” for the inner being). Hopkins alluded to it in observing a tree:
“There is one notable dead tree . . . the inscape markedly holding its most simple and beautiful oneness up from the ground through a graceful swerve below (I think) the spring of the branches up to the tops of the timber. I saw the inscape freshly, as if my mind were still growing, though with a companion the eye and the ear are for the most part shut and instress cannot come.”