The news is not entirely unexpected, but Edwards Bookstore in Tower Square, Springfield, will be closing on May 16. The last of the area's independent bookstores will be gone, victim of the mega-bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online sellers like Amazon.com.
I wonder, sometimes, what my life would have been like without Springfield bookstores.
All through high school, I would spend at least three late afternoons a week in Johnson's Secondhand Bookstore, browsing for hours and getting great bargains for a dime. So many of my lifelong interests were shaped sitting on a stool in those narrow isles-- religion, philosophy, history, science, nature-- and, as I think about it, from books ten to sixty years old! I memorized all the bones in the human body from a 1910 anatomy textbook, don't ask me why. Sometimes I'd take my find of the day and go next door to Johnson's Tea Room (which no one seems to remember) for tea and bread pudding. When, at seventeen, I decided to run away from home, I smuggled all my most expensive books to Johnson's where I then sold them (with many apologies) and made enough money for a bus ticket to Boston. Fifteen years later, I was able to diagnose myself with a severe case of lead poisoning based on a 1920's Materia Medica volume (lead poisoning was more common in those days) that somehow had stayed with me from the city to the country.
Not long after high school, I worked in Johnson's Bookstore-- the new section-- for about six months. I remember that certain books were marked with the red letter A, meaning we were not allowed to sell them to anyone under twenty-one-- in fact, I couldn't buy them myself. The A was supposed to stand for "Adult," but I always thought of it as Hawthorne's Scarlet letter. Seemed like there was always a Johnson brother standing in the corner, hands behind his back, rocking slowly on his heels and watching our every move.
After a while Cunningham's Bookstore became my hangout. It was a new kind of bookstore-- paperbacks only-- with authors that would never have turned up at Johnson's: Franz Fanon, William Burroughs, Luigi Pirandello, Edward Becket, Kenneth Patchen, Collette. In that intellectual period between the tail end of the Beat Movement and the first stirrings of the new counterculture, I soaked up everything I could. It was there that I met my first daughter's father and some of the friends I have to this day, forty years later.
And forty years latter, books from Johnson's and Cunningham's are still on my bookshelves. I have about 2,000 books and I've read three-quarters. I'm now at an age where I put a little thought into what I will reread and what I will read for the first time, especially as I now have a passion to understand physics-- don't ask me why-- and you don't exactly zip through a book on string theory.
Sometimes I look at my books and wonder where they will all go when I die. In the meantime, I savor their company.