I decided it was high time I investigated the bibliopolic delights of Northampton, just across the river and said to have more bookstores than Cambridge. My lovely and tolerant wife drove me there and dropped me off, promising to return several hours later; I went into the nearest store on my list, Half Moon Books, and stayed until my stomach let me know in no uncertain terms it was well past lunchtime. The proprietor, David Ham, is a knowledgeable and interesting fellow (and was kind enough to photocopy a map of local used bookstores for me, facilitating my further adventures), and the store is the kind of place I haven’t seen since I left NYC: full of interesting books it would never have occurred to me to look for (which is why bookstores are still better than Amazon). Fortunately, I was limited by the need to carry my purchases around with me, or I might have gone hog-wild; I wound up getting a half dozen books, including Aksakov’s Years of Childhood, the two-volume 1966 paperback edition of Yuri Annenkov‘s Dnevnik moikh vstrech (a collection of his essays, with drawings, about precisely the set of early-20th-century figures I’ve been reading about: Gorky, Blok, Mayakovsky, Babel, the whole crew of the Second Golden Age), and A. Kvyatkovsky’s 1966 Poeticheskii slovar’ [Poetry dictionary], a book useful for its collection of examples and appalling in its complete effacement of the brilliant Russian analysts of poetry who flourished in the early years of the last century, from Andrei Bely to Shklovsky and Jakobson. As it happens, the last two items illustrated perfectly what the owner was telling me in our discussion of bookstores: “I try to stock what I think will sell, but sometimes I’ll see something on the shelf and think ‘Why have I got that?’—and then someone will walk in and buy it.”

He recommended, given my esoteric interests, I visit Troubadour Books in North Hatfield (raved about here), which I certainly will do; in the meantime, I grabbed a quick lunch at a barbecue place and headed over to Raven Books, where on an earlier (and much more fleeting) visit to Northampton I found some good stuff on the dollar rack. I spent an hour or so looking around but this time left empty-handed (only because of the fear of shoulder strain—there are a couple of things I may go back for). I crossed Main St. and found my way to the Old Book Store, where the prices were lower but the stock limited, and (fortunately for my shoulder and pocketbook) they didn’t take credit cards; I wound up getting only The Uncertain Crusade: America and the Russian Revolution of 1905. There were more bookstores to visit, but I was out of time and energy; I went to the arranged meetup spot and gratefully sank into the air-conditioned car. Man, I love a good bookstore.

Update. I did indeed visit Troubadour Books and fell in love with it: 2007, 2015, 2017, 2019.


  1. Dr. Hat, where were your favorite places to look for books in NYC?

  2. Labyrinth Books (which is apparently now Book Culture) near Columbia for academic books, St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village for general “cultural” books, The Strand for used books and remainders, East Village Books for used books and conversation (they have the kind of staff and customers I used to hang out all night chatting with in New Haven bookstores), and the big Barnes & Nobles just to browse the huge stock and see what had been published lately. Lots of others, too, naturally, but those are the first that spring to mind.

  3. Personally I found the Strand very frustrating. I did, however, quite like the bijou little Columbia bookstore up near the campus (120th?) on I think Amsterdam. (Or was it Columbus?) LH probably knows.

  4. Terry Collmann says

    ABE revolutionised my book collecting (I have a pretty specialist interest, but I still find about a book a week even in that narrow area) – however, I agree, there’s nothing like the serendipitous pleasures of a real second-hand bookshop. Others will know better than me, but here in London, while Charing Cross Road is still a good place to hunt, the area around the British Library in King’s Cross is good enough for people to have printed up maps … not up to Hay-on-Wye, of course …

  5. I should add that Strand Rare Books is another kettle of fish entirely. Possibly the nicest second-hand book-shopping environment I’ve ever seen. The only second-hand bookstore I’ve been to (except Unsworth’s on Euston Road) with a drinking fountain. Now if only I had bought that 20-dollar Gallup Biliteral Cipher
    As for London, now you’re talking. Hay is, I’m told, overrated. But Bloomsbury, from the BL down to the BM, is full of treasures, esp. Waterstones second-hand dept, and the three stores on Charing Cross Road itself (Pordes, Any Amount of Books, and Quinto’s) are generally bursting with goodies. The shops on Cecil Row are overpriced and a bit firsteditiony for my tastes. Then there’s the charms of Keith Fawkes bookstore on Flask Walk, round the corner from Hampstead Tube–the highest book-to-space ratio I’ve seen–and World’s End on King’s Road, Gloucester Road Bookshop, Archive Books on Bell St. near Edgware Road Tube, Walden Books on Harmood St. (near Chalk Farm), the bouquiniste market outside the BFI under Waterloo Bridge, and the Book Art Bookshop just off Old Street in Hoxton.

  6. Gosh, Hat, make us envious, huh? I went to school in the Pioneer Valley and was back for the first time in 23 years (yikes!) in November. I went nuts in the bookstores (don’t you love the smell of them?), and gasped at the upscale clothing and knick-knack and jewellery stores. Sounds like you got a great first haul. Continue to enjoy… and keep us informed!

  7. I had an armful of books in a bookstore the other day and the clerk offered me a basket. “No, thanks; that’s how I can tell I’ve spent enough money, when I can’t carry any more,” I said.

  8. [whining mode=on]
    Gorky, Blok, Mayakovsky, Babel, the whole crew of the Second Golden Age?
    Humbly disagree. First, there was no Golden Age in the XX century, only the Silver one. Second, Gorky might have been an interesting fellow but nevertheless, he appears to be an odd item in your list.
    [whining mode=off]
    I am very delighted to learn that you are interested in Russian literature 🙂
    To me, the Silver Age is associated with the names of Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Khlebnikov, Gumilev and Voloshin, and then Cherubina de Gabriak, Kuzmin, Block of course, but Mayakovsky, Esenin, Pasternak and Babel are from different age, and I would never call it Golden (or it is rather special sort of gold).
    Sorry I am whining again.

  9. Nothing wrong with whining—I do a lot of it myself!
    You are, of course, correct about standard usage: the phrase “Silver Age” is correlated with the names of Blok, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Mandelshtam, and a few others. But:
    1) I was speaking very loosely about pretty much everyone writing around the time of the Revolution and Civil War, and
    2) I do not like the phrase “Silver Age” and refuse to use it. (I was deeply influenced by Omry Ronen’s The Fallacy of the Silver Age in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, which I urge anyone with an interest in the subject to read.) The term was invented by second-rate critics like Piast and Ivanov-Razumnik to refer to the poetry of the 1870s and ’80s, and it implies an inferiority to the “Golden Age” of the early 19th century which is manifestly ridiculous if we’re talking about Blok, Mandelshtam, et al. Ronen prefers the term “Second Golden Age,” and so do I.

  10. In replacing the dead links for this post, I found to my dismay that the link in “(raved about here)” is not even retrievable by the Wayback Machine, but hell, I’ve raved about the place enough since then. I discovered to my greater dismay that David Ham of Half Moon Books died in 2014 — and to my astonishment that he taught chemistry at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, where my grandsons have gone to school all their lives! Small world…

  11. Silver Age

    In Russian intelligentsia consciousness (or as they say, cultural memory) Silver Age is connected to Akhmatova’s

    На Галерной чернела арка,
    В Летнем тонко пела флюгарка,
    И серебряный месяц ярко
    Над серебряным веком стыл.

    Which makes it difficult to disown. I am with William Jennings Bryan on this. Who cares who first came up with the term and what it meant originally.

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