Maybe 15 years ago, back when the Montclair Book Center was still the Page One Café, I barely stepped into my local Barnes & Noble. Why would I? Instead, I spent hours browsing the books — old and new — on the left side of Page One. On the right side, there was a café. Live jazz. A healthy selection of periodicals, records, old movie posters, and other miscellany. It was all I wanted and needed, all in one place.
Today, the café is gone. The periodicals and other miscellany, too. It’s still a bookshop worth losing yourself in. But it’s not the same. It’s not the type of place where I can sit down with a good book, find the latest lit mags, and enjoy a meal and some music. That makes me sadface.
What’s even sadder is that I’ve been unable to find another shop that can step in and take its place. In Boston, I had the Trident Booksellers & Café. When I was working in NYC, I frequently showed up early for events at Housing Works, McNally Jackson, and the Strand, wandering the aisles before settling down for a variety show or a panel or a reading. Have I just been spoiled? Is there a reason I can’t find a single NJ bookstore that’s recreating that experience… that’s popped up as a literary hotbed for NJ writers? Where’s the NJ version of Book Boroughing!? Where’s the NJ literary community!?
This has all been bubbling up inside me lately because I’ve been doing research for a story on local bookstores as community centers, for Inside Jersey. I’ve been driving around to Words in Maplewood (beautiful, and with an attentive staff, but where can I linger?), Watchung Booksellers in Montclair (I immediately want to buy everything in sight, but the space is long and narrow, and not conducive to loitering), To Be Continued in Metuchen (I cannot for the life of me figure out the logic behind the shelving), and others. At Books & Greetings in Northvale, I bought a copy of Foreskin’s Lament, by Shalom Auslander after being charmed by the shop owner, but the space felt schizophrenic… part bookstore / part strip mall greeting card shop. All of these shops hold events, but all of them seem to be straight-up readings/signings, showing none of the creativity of the events I’ve been to in NYC. And where in hell are the lit mags?
Not only that but, as I’ve shifted my focus from sex-specific listicles to personal essays, I’ve started reading more from a literary community that — primarily — seems based in Brooklyn. The Rumpus. The Millions. Book Riot. Brooklyn Magazine. Tin House. Electric Literature. Page-Turner. The other tweeps on my word nerd Twitter list. I’ve been reading about their book launch parties and their bookish careers and their book festivals. And, to be frank, it makes me jealous.
Where’s my literary community?
Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place. Maybe I need to create that community. Maybe I need to just suck it up and head into the city more often. Who knows?
All I know is that, as I feel more and more isolated from other writers, I feel ever more adrift in my career.
Do you have a strong literary community in your neck of the woods? Where do you get your word nerd fix?