It isn't built like a store, it's built like a reading room in a library, or one of those college cafeterias at Yale, all old wood and high ceilings. You walk in the front door and sometimes there’s a checkout counter but more often it’s just a room, a wide room with wooden floors and no rugs, light wood, no dark wood, and directly in front of you at the far end, facing you as you enter, is a wall of bookshelves about eight to ten feet high, packed with used paper¬backs and used hardcovers. It's about ten to twelve steps from the door to this wall of books. There is another wall on your right, one without anything on it, no shelves, no paintings, just a bare wall; and a hallway on your left. The bookshelves continue along the wall to the left, and down the right hand side of a long, thin hallway, the left side of which has nothing but bay windows overlooking, what, I don't know what they overlook, I've never looked through them, I've only looked at the books (shows you where my head's at). And as you walk down the hallway, it opens up on your right into a huge reading room, like a library except uncluttered by tables or chairs--just a large high room with bookshelves on three walls, and several standing bookcases, also of light wood, which somehow do not make the room feel crowded or packed. This is the treasure room, this is the room with all the finds in it. And this room is empty of people; nobody knows about this place except me and my friends (my dream friends, I mean, like Bonnie and Trick and Brandui -- we’ll get into my dream friends later).
The store itself always has a different address, and a different street door, and is always part of a different building. Sometimes it’s right outside of Harvard Square, on a side street that does not exist in real-world Cambridge; sometimes it’s just a hidden door in an otherwise nondescript building. But I know it the minute I look at it. I know what it is, and whenever I see it, I always walk out of the dream I’ve been having, like someone walking out of a bad movie, and open that door to see what’s in my bookstore this time. The feeling I get when I walk into this bookstore is a combination of finding something that was lost and coming home just in time for Christmas; a feeling of being blessed, being lucky, being home.
I call this place the Great Bookstore--whenever it shows up, either I say or somebody else says, "Oh, this is the Great Bookstore!" And of course, whenever I visit the Great Bookstore, I'm always finding books that do not exist in the real world-- books that I used to have as a child and have totally forgotten about; books that I say to myself as I look at them, "Now this is exciting--this is a book that I should write when I wake up!" And a lot of the time? Books by authors I collect that I've never been able to find, or that they've never even written -- books like Sylvia Scarlet by Robert Louis Stevenson, or The Kites of Kai Lung by Ernest Bramah -- plays like Affectation by Sheridan and The Maid’s Holiday by Christopher Marlowe. And every now and then there’s a lost Shakespeare play, too, like Love’s Labour’s Wonne, or Cardenio, or The Tragedy of Gowrie, which he wrote with Ben Jonson.
So please try to picture the total mental disconnect I experienced when I walked into Barnes and Noble in Union Square on Saturday and saw this in the Shakespeare section:
And please also, if you can, imagine the incredibly Twilight Zone sensation I had when I started to reach out to pick up the book and wondered for a moment if my hand would go right through it, ghost-like, because either it was not real or (even scarier) I was not real. But no, it was solid. And it weighed about 50 pounds because it had an introduction almost as long as the text itself, an apology that read like a term paper on Thomas Aquinas. I probably will pick it up eventually; but for now, if you want to read the reaction of someone who knows what he's talking about, go to this article by Ron Rosenbaum on Slate.
As for me, I read a few paragraphs of the intro, scanned a few lines from the play, looked at the price ($22), and with no regret whatsoever replaced the book on the shelf without buying it. If I'm going to spend that kind of money? I'll blow it on The Child Out Of Fire by James Branch Cabell.