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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
The Spiral Bookcase
I am not from Philadelphia, nor have I ever visited. But after seeing the movie Mannequin as a child, I started telling the kids in my class that my family hailed from there and that it was indeed true that the department store windows came to life at night. These wild assertions got me beat up, thus solidifying the fact that I wasn’t really from a line of Philadelphians. Still, my infatuation with the city continues. I rock Sixers gear when I play hoops in the park, watch this show religiously, and have an itinerary ready-to-go should the City of Brotherly Love ever ask me to join it for an extended weekend. Near the top of that itinerary would have to be a visit to The Spiral Bookcase, which author and fellow Phillie fanatic Andrew Ervin was kind enough to take us to in this week’s installment of Book Clubbing.
My favorite bookshop doesn’t exist.
I have bookshops that I like, of course, and a few that I love (such Treehugger Dan’s in Budapest), but my dream bookshop is one that would work like Borges’s Library of Babel in reverse. Instead of an infinite collection of every book possible, at this point in my life I want a store that sells one book and one book only: it would sell the book I’ve been looking for all these months, maybe for years, even if I haven’t known it. Even if it doesn’t exist.
Short of that, the place I’m spending the most time these days is The Spiral Bookcase, here in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia. Manayunk is a hilly, historic former mill town along the Schuylkill River, and the name means “Where We Go to Drink” in Lenape. Nowadays, it’s all coffee shops and boutiques, ethnic restaurants and post-frat pubs. The Spiral Bookcase is a recent addition to the landscape, and the young owners, Ann and Adam, have put together a remarkably quirky and cozy little shop.
They mostly sell used books, heavy on contemporary fiction and local interest, with some fascinating treasures throughout. A small display of new books keeps them current—and constantly surprising. Maybe it’s my imagination, but there seem to be large numbers of books on display right now about Swedish death metal and about bacon. I’ve walked out of there recently with copies of Atonement, Freedom, John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens, and a title I’d prefer not to mention because my possession of it will bump me further up some governmental watch lists. (I’m reading it purely for research purposes, I promise.)
More than that, it’s a fun place to hang out for an hour. There’s no telling what will be going on. Last year, I did my own book-release party there. The entertainment included the band 25 Cromwell Street, which features Dead Milkmen front man Rodney Anonymous on the hurdy-gurdy. I understand that their cover of Nick Cave’s “Honey Bee” is on YouTube. For the Philadelphia International Championship bike race last week, Ann (who I’ve never seen not smiling) filled the window with beautiful copies of new and vintage books about cycling. When Bradford Morrow drove down from New York one Saturday to read from The Diviner’s Tale, the window display included old-timey and thematically appropriate books about dowsing.
These are clearly folks who care about each customer and every book they sell. The neighborhood is lucky to have them.
Andrew Ervin is the author of Extraordinary Renditions