Apparently, according to a quick search this morning, I have never fully explained to you my love of the book barn. Now, I did mention it a while back as my favorite place to buy books, and that it is. But it is so much more than a place to buy books, and I will try to explain it here, although I know I will not do it justice.
When I was a kid, my mom used to pile me, my sister, and my brother, into our Volvo station wagon, many bags, coolers, and chairs in tow, ready for a full day at the beach. Every day of the summer, we drove 20 minutes (even though we lived about 5 minutes from the beach) to Rocky Neck. It’s one of the best beaches, because it is long, smooth, and on a sandbar. And has an area for crabbing (which we did with chicken legs, catching crabs and putting them back, never big enough to bring home.) The sandbar always allowed us to swim without our mother having to worry much about us: the water was usually to our knees, unless it was high tide, and then the water was to our chests, maybe, but only if you swam out far enough.
Anyways, the other good thing about Rocky Neck is that it is a three minute drive to the Book Barn. Which is just what is sounds like. When we were little, the Book Barn was a large barn, full of books, with one building in the back full of paperbacks. Paperbacks are a dollar. We’d go every few weeks, getting beach reads to bring to the beach. I picked up a book there about a girl who moves to Maine and meets a girl that turns into a seal. I don’t know what it’s called, but I remember reading it and having it be a magical experience. Many other good reads have come from there, and my shelves at home in Michigan are lined with books I picked up for a dollar, including a variety of John Steinbeck books from the years my dad and I decided we were going to read through them all (we’re still working on that one.) I’ve grabbed Barbara Kingslover, Ayn Rand, Charles Dickens, and a few J.K. Rowling books over the years, keeping them on shelves at home, waiting for a rainy day, or a long beach trip.
When we moved to Michigan at the end of seventh grade, we went back for a few years in the summers, taking two weeks to spend in Niantic, walking distance from Rocky Neck. We’d take trips to the Book Barn, stocking up on dollar books to bring back to Michigan and our pool, when we were landlocked for the summer months.
As we grew up, so did the Book Barn. The Barn is still full, as is the Annex (where I encountered my first Steinbeck.) Added to the arrangement was the Haunted Bookshop, the Last Page building, Ellis Island (where you can sell your books to the Book Barn’s lovely personnel), and Hades. Every time we go, I find a new section to love, and see more and more books, and thankfully, more and more patrons. The lovely people at the Book Barn have opened a second location downtown, and a third “midtown” spot.
The Book Barn’s not just books, either. There are always pets to play with, a few cats and a few dogs, wandering the premises, rubbing against your legs in the fiction section. There is always coffee, always a snack, and always water waiting for you in the main building, if your extended stay happens to go longer than you anticipated. In recent years, there are bags for carrying your books spread around the buildings, and seemingly more places to sit, if you need to read a little before you decide on a book. The books are still organized just as well as they always have been. Always alphabetically, always classics available, usually a copy of a new book I wanted to read but didn’t want to spend the money on nestled between a handful of books I’ve never heard of or between a few books dated “1930.” And, the best thing? Always, always music in each nook and cranny of the place. The Annex is blasting summer tunes (from Grateful Dead to 80s power ballads) whereas in the history basement of the barn, Sarah McLaughlin’s voice is on repeat. Never a quiet moment, always the right volume, always the right song, the right voice, the right moment.
I blame the Book Barn for two things: my undeniable tendency to get food and dirt in between books’ pages, and my stinginess for buying books. I can’t remember I bought a book new, or at full price (and if I did, I probably had a gift certificate.) I usually go to the library, but I am a lousy library patron, as I often forget to renew books (and forget to return them.) But I can’t justify spending $12 or $15 on a book, when I could get 15 books at the book barn for that same price! I also can’t help spilling Jax on the pages, knowing the book was a dollar, and knowing that when I bought the book it was already loved, and if we’re being honest, a little damp, as it sat in a building open to the elements. I carry this mentality to many books, getting sand in the pages, fig newton stains, soda, water, and sometimes coffee on books. Of course, I am careful when I borrow from friends, but it is really hard for me to not end up having a book’s cover come off, or having the binding either break or be stained when I return it.
And so, when I was home in CT in June, my family made time for the Book Barn. Getting to the Book Barn and to the beach is on the “to do” list every time we go home for pleasure, as is “visit family” and “eat a whole crap load of food.” We spent a mere hour and a half at the book barn, and I loved every moment of it. I spent time exploring the basement of the Book Barn, where the history and political books lie, but couldn’t justify buying too many, as some were $4, which is just a little over my price range, personally.
This visit, as I was struggling to minimize my pile in the “F” section of fiction, I helped my dad find a few books that were written in: hard cover books that say the owner’s name in cursive on the front flap, proudly listing a date. We found one from the 1890’s, which my dad kept close, as it was one of the oldest in his collection. (Granted, he started this collection of personalized books only a few weeks ago, but still.)
Half way through my wandering, I realized that since my parents had driven in from MI, I could send books home with them, and get them when I arrived in Chicago in July. Thank you, Southwest, for feeding my book addiction (bags fly free — even bags full of books!) So I walked out with seven or eight books, spending about $16 (I splurged for a few $4 books in the end.)
The Book Barn is a magical place. As I was busy entranced in books, I did not take any pictures; luckily, Jeffrey was on hand, documenting the beauty with photographs that live up to the Book Barn’s majesty.