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Every few years a new book comes along that belongs to a select category one might label "the bookstore bio." Comprising such titles as Old Books, Rare Friends or 84 Charing Cross Road, these few, these happy few biographies are purportedly about the proprietors of a particular store. In reality, however, they are as much about the relationships booklovers forge as they are about books. Certainly this is true of The Bookstore, Lynne Tillman's entertaining history of a New York literary landmark, Books & Co. Founded in 1977 by IBM heiress Jeannette Watson, the shop became a legendary stomping ground for everyone from Woody Allen to Salman Rushdie. When it finally closed its doors in 1997 due to a rent dispute with the Whitney Museum, it was a blow felt by bibliophiles round the world.
Though Books & Co. is gone, its hold on the hearts of its admirers is still strong, and Tillman has had no trouble rounding up a slew of former patrons to sing its praises; the history is punctuated with anecdotes covering the full spectrum of bookstore life. John G. Hanhardt, describing Books & Co.'s philosophy section, remarks "I think of Books & Co. as a curated space," while sales rep Ed Solowitz wryly comments on the store's buying policies: "We don't even want to talk about returns. I tell people, I don't even watch election results because they say 'We're going to the returns.' I get very nervous. Returns, I get very nervous." The likes of Brendan Gill, Fran Liebowitz, Paul Auster, Amy Hempel, Susan Sontag, and many, many more writers and readers weigh in with their memories as well. And weaving in, out, and around these various reminiscences is Watson's personal account of her enterprise from its earliest inception to its final days. Books & Co. will be sorely missed; The Bookstore reminds us of why. --Alix Wilber [via]