Following good stories wherever they lead
By an unassuming parking lot off of Route 67 in a corner of Massachusetts, there is a painted sign of a large brown bear in a massive red armchair, wearing a wizard’s hat and reading a large yellow book.
If you turn in here, you’ll find The Book Bear — proud purveyor of “90,000 lively old and not so old books.” There will be a bear outside to greet you, as well — this one seemed to be taking a break from some winter shoveling.
The decor is plain and unassuming, far more focused on the books than offering any gathering places or reading nooks. The shelving did have touches of personality — Garfield adorned many shelf ends, and the section labels could be…casual — but the overall vibe was that of an inventory.
There was a fair smattering of newer material, a phenomenon that occurs frequently at most used bookstores, but nothing too new, and lots of the NYTimes bestseller “bulk” that makes wading through a challenge. The nonfiction section was slightly more robust, with plenty of delineations for local interest and subtopics.
After only a bit of wandering, however, I was surprised and disappointed to find my two favorite sections — fantasy and YA — severely lacking.
The YA section (aka “Teen/Kids”) was positively anemic, especially compared to the younger reading material. There was nothing more recent than three years back, and most series lacked the first or second books.
The Fantasy section…didn’t exist. It looked like it was lumped in with Sci-Fi, since I found a few fantasy titles scattered throughout there, but there was no marker to indicate if that was intentional or not.
This is something I’ve seen often at used bookstores, and it confuses me every time. Why is Horror its own genre, along with Mystery, Romance, and the (fuzzily defined) “Graphic Novels” — yet poor Science Fiction and Fantasy are doomed to single-shelfdom, bumping shoulders and chafing wings?
They are separate universes, with their own conventions, motifs, rules and aspirations. No one, catapulted from a scene of Tolkien to a passage of Orson Scott Card, could fail to notice the transition — not just in style but in universe.
The one thing they seem to share is their division from the “real world” of general genre fiction — but truly, how “realistic” are the gallivantings of the latest Clancy or heart-twanging romances of Sparks? We don’t look for the accuracy of a lab report in fiction; the truths we seek are deeper than that.
Just because a genre engages with explicitly foreign beings — whether they have pointed ears, or scales, or wings — doesn’t mean all those “foreigners” are alike. Yes, Sci-Fi and Fantasy often engage with the question of Other; that doesn’t make them the same in their means, methods, or motivations. And it certainly doesn’t make for the same “type” of story.
Even if I had found more distinct sections, I would have been disappointed by the lack of range within each one. Mostly picked over, later-series-installments and worn copies of bestsellers from the 80’s abounded. I did a quick scan of other areas, but nothing jumped out at me. We didn’t spend very long after that, and set out again for the road. I don’t always expect to grab something when I find a bookstore — sometimes I just go for the pleasure of browsing — but this visit fell a little flat on both counts.
Overall, for a used bookstore, you might well hop in for a brief scan, but it’s not someplace to really settle in and explore, or lose yourself in the atmosphere of bookdom. This Bear might have plenty of books, but it just wasn’t a Goldilocks experience for me.
Different takes on the place, or recommendations for others? Drop a line in the comments!
Next up on the Book Trial: the Book Barn of Niantic, CT!