Seeking one long-beloved in the bookstores of the Village A name with busts inside to back it up. (David Lyon for The Boston Globe) By David Lyon With all deference to the online bookselling behemoths, I would rather hunt for books in shops that smell like fine old paper and leather bindings, places where “useless and pointless knowledge’’ (as Bob Dylan called it) seems to hang in the air and the clerks thumb old paperbacks between sales. In short, I’m a fan of independent bookstores, especially those that sell used books.
So when a Boston Globe column last spring mentioned a Greenwich Village Bookstore Tour bus trip from Fall River, I signed up — despite living in Cambridge, a city many consider the center of the independent bookstore universe. Folk music impresarios Alan and Helene Korolenko of Westport have these Manhattan pilgrimages down pat. They supply a walking tour of literary sites, a bookstore map with short descriptions, snacks on the trip down, and tips on where to eat.
Generously armed with the Korolenkos’ suggestions, next time I’ll take Peter Pan from Boston to avoid the 6:30 a.m. departure from Fall River. But I’ll miss the summer-camp camaraderie of riding with 40 other bibliophiles and babbling about favorite authors, favorite stores, favorite sights, and books we hoped to find. My white whale was a first trade edition of “New Hampshire: A Poem with Notes and Grace Notes’’ by Robert Frost. Published in 1923 by Henry Holt and illustrated with woodcuts by J.J. Lankes, it won the poet his first Pulitzer Prize. I once skipped buying it in a Newburyport book shop and have spent years regretting my misplaced frugality.
Having both a goal to limit my purchases and a backpack to tote my inevitable indulgences eased my assault on the Village bookstore scene, though clerks invariably asked me to leave the backpack at the front desk. (Who would pilfer books? Ask the ghost of sometimes-Village denizen Abbie Hoffman.)
Despite being the nominal setting for the TV show “Friends,’’ Greenwich Village retains its venerable literary and bohemian patina. Once I got off the bus at Washington Square, I walked west on West 10th Street past plaques reminding passersby that Mark Twain lived at No. 14, Dashiell Hammett at No. 28, and legendary party-host Sinclair Lewis at No. 37. Little cul-de-sacs across 6th Avenue held former homes of playwright Eugene O’Neill (Milligan Place), and journalist-agitator John Reed and poet E.E. Cummings (Patchin Place). I could have spent the day touching bases with literary heroes, but there were books to be bought. Keeping the Frost volume in mind, I decided to save for last the likeliest places to find it.
So I started with guilty pleasures, careening up Greenwich Avenue to Partners & Crime, which must serve my crime and detective fiction needs now that Kate’s Mystery Books has closed in Cambridge. Partners has what every devoted reader wants: a great selection of hard-to-find books (like British imports) and the backlist titles of deserving authors. Four books (of 11) by the greatest hard-boiled writer of my generation, the late Jim Crumley, had their own little display.Continued...