Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tattered Cover

Any visit to my parents in the Denver area must always include at least one trip to the Tattered Cover Book Store. I got some book money as a Christmas gift from the dog and the cat (don't ask), so it was our first stop on the 26th.

The Tattered Cover is one of the legendary indie bookstores. Founded in 1971, it has three locations in the Denver area. The 16th Street location, where we went, covers three enormous floors and includes a space for author events, a cafe, and a magazine section that boasts the largest collection of literary magazines I have seen anywhere, ever. There's no discernable organizational principle to the layout, and all the signs are hand-written in faded ink. I always have to ask in order to find anything I'm looking for, but that's actually one of the great pleasures of this place: the staff are knowledgeable and enthusiastic and will not only tell me where a book is located but will take me over to the relevant section and find it for me. There are semi-ratty chairs and tables all over the store, dogs are more than welcome, and the whole place is like a big, shabby, disorganized Church of Reading. I love it.

Above all, however, I love the Tattered Cover for its commitment to freedom of expression. In 2000 the store resisted, on First Amendment grounds, a search warrant for a customer's purchase records. The customer was suspected of illegally making methamphetamine and the police were trying to connect him with books they found on manufacturing the drug. The case went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court and was ultimately decided in the bookstore's favor. At the customer's request, the store later revealed that the book in question was a volume on Japanese calligraphy.

That's right: your phone company will sell you out in a heartbeat, but your local independent bookseller will go to the state Supreme Court to protect your privacy. More reason to love them, were any needed.

So we went on Friday, with me hemming and hawing the entire way about how I already had a lot of books I needed to read and had gotten several more that I was dying to read from various relatives for Christmas, and, really, I couldn't actually think of anything I wanted to read that I didn't already have. I would probably go in and then leave empty-handed.

I picked up: Last Night at the Lobster because I read an interview with Stewart O'Nan and it sounded interesting; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle because I missed when it came out in paperback this spring; The Wordy Shipmates because I adore Sarah Vowell and will buy anything she writes; Old Friend from Far Away because I am constitutionally incapable of resisting how-to books on memoir; and Unstuck ($4.98 in the bargain bin) because, okay, the truth is that I am constitutionally incapable of resisting any writing advice book.

I also got his beautiful blank notebook:

I'm not ordinarily a fan of fancy-shmancy blank notebooks—my college-rule cardboard-covered notebooks exert much less pressure to write Deathless Prose. But this looked so good it was practically edible, and we're coming up on the new year and fresh beginnings, so I decided to try something new. About which, more later.

My "On My Bookshelf" list has gone from worrisome to completely-out-of-control, but hopefully I've also improved my bookstore-related karma enough to end the year in the black.

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