As I mentioned …

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As I mentioned previously, I gave a talk on Monday at Treadwell’s Books. I bring this up for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I want to talk about good bookshops in general. 

Every year, some beloved independent bookstore goes out of business — just a few years ago, Cambridge saw the demise of Galloway and Porter, a small shop that had been part of the city’s landscape for over 100 years, and I genuinely felt as if I had lost … well, an acquaintance anyway. But with Amazon and ebay and whatnot, it’s clear that it’s harder and harder for an independent bookstore to survive. As far as I can see, there are two things one can do. 

The first thing is to be cheap as dirt. I wouldn’t say Treadwell’s is cheap as dirt, but it’s definitely inexpensive. Some of the rarer items have some sticker shock attached to them, but it isn’t terrible. The second thing is to do some kind of full-service job, and that’s where Treadwell’s stands out. As you can see from the site, they’re constantly hosting lectures and talks and classes and events and whatnot, and they also do a good job of matching you to the books you want without seeming like they’re hard-selling you. 

I have very little use for a bookstore if I already know what book I want. But … late last year, I was browsing around in Treadwell’s when I came across this book. It’s a social and artistic history of lavatories, and it’s both genuinely educational and completely hilarious. I bought it, intending to give it to a friend as a Christmas gift, but I wound up not seeing him over the holidays, so when he moved a couple of months later my wife and I gave it to him as a housewarming gift. Waste not, want not. 

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The point of my story is that when I took the book to the counter, the person working there said, and I quote, “oh, good. We were all hoping this one would find a home for Christmas.” That pleases me. Like I say, I don’t need a bookshop to help me find a book I already want — although its help in spending less on a book I already want is gratefully received — but it’s hard to replicate this experience anywhere but a weird little bookstore. 

Don’t let the description and the website fool you, by the way: Treadwell’s casts its nets wide. The occult stuff is a big part of what it does, but it has a lot of oddball history. And that, as you know, is pretty much why I get up in the morning. 

I know this sounds like an ad, and it is, in the sense that I want people to share the things that I like, but it’s also a request — do you have shops you feel the same way about? 

Aside

Waking the Dead

I gave a talk yesterday at Treadwell’s Books in London. Appropriately, it was about “waking the dead in the middle ages”. I don’t know about the middle ages, but giving the talk did inspire me to revive this blog, in which I intend to talk about the odder sides of the study of history. I have a few articles saved up in the back of my head, so with luck I should be able to update a little more regularly from now on. 

Waking the Dead