IOWA CITY— The number of used bookstores in the county is reduced by one. Murphy-Brookfield Books closed after 33 years in business, and its owners sold their historic stone building to the Haunted Bookshop. The deal is done and people and cats were in their new digs when I stopped by earlier this afternoon. Murphy-Brookfield Books went on-line.
I don’t like any of it… except maybe the cats.
I’ll start by saying that if I want to find something to read, there will be no problem. Our home library has enough reading material to last the rest of my life, and then some. Most of what I read is found here. Too, the public library provides on-line access to ebooks I can download to my phone for free if someone else doesn’t have them checked out. From time to time I browse the selection, and it is pretty good. If I can’t find what I want there, I go on-line and buy it from Amazon.com, eBay or one of the bookstores on the Internet. It isn’t for reading material that I frequent bookstores. I can get that at home.
Last year I stopped at the large chain bookseller at the mall. It had changed. It was as if they took everything I liked and removed or placed it out of sight. There was plenty of pulp fiction, and novels that looked like they all had been designed in the same advertising studio— similar titles, same sizes and an array of brilliant covers embossed with foil— lined up like so many treats in an old fashioned candy store. The caché of hanging out at a bookstore, reading and drinking coffee has faded. I’m no longer a fan of coffee bars and besides, who has time any more? I haven’t been back.
Browsing used books is like taking a vacation. I plan the trip for weeks, and upon arrival, one never knows what to expect. By chance, something catches the eye and comes off the table, down from the shelf, or out of a bin. If the price is right, the bound volume comes home.
Through Salvation Army stores, Goodwill and thrift stores, used book stores large and small, rummage and library sales, and estate auctions I have browsed since high school looking for something. In a box of discards I found a 19th Century edition of the collected works of James Fenimore Cooper— the pages turned yellow and brittle, too fragile to turn. At a thrift store in Sweetwater, Texas, for a dollar I bought an autographed copy of Iowan W. Edwards Deming’s “Out of the Crisis” while the rattlesnake roundup was going on. At the library used book sale I found Alexander Kern’s copy of Charles and Mary Beard’s “The Rise of American Civilization,” signed by Kern and dated Sept. 1932 inside the cover. That signature itself was a piece of local history. There is always something to connect to bits and pieces of my history or theirs.
So why don’t I like it? The people seem nice at the Haunted Bookshop. And after all, I was able to survive when the Epstein Brothers closed shop and their portable building was removed from Clinton Street. There is Prairie Lights on Dubuque Street. It was good enough for President Obama, so why not good enough for me?
I didn’t know Mark Brookfield at all… except that he was there most times I stopped by over three decades. I recognized him when I entered, and he was helpful without exception. Whether I was looking for something, or had a box of books to trade for store credit, each transaction went well. I was always happy when I left, and looked forward to the next visit. I doubt he knew me. Now he’s out of sight in the ether.
Maybe I just don’t like change— knowing another landmark off Market Street is gone. One less old haunt in a block where so much has happened in my life. Maybe it’s something else. The new place is packed with books, as if a massive shedding of the printed word was underway— more than just the university community ditching books before moving on. It may be something like that.
So one last time to consider the past, get used to the change, and then go on living with one less used bookstore in which to dig for memories. I won’t get over it. But maybe I will.