Waves of Literature, Mountains of Paper
But all is not lost, I told myself. After all,
The travel book told me that the French Quarter sports several bookstores. Because they are all in walking distance, I decided to walk to all of them. The first one I actually visited on my first day when I came across it accidentally. The Book Exchange is new bohemian, in other words punk. Operating on the idea that these are just books and their material value is not important as the knowledge with in them, which should be free, and the price tag reflects that. They are all used, most of them used to the point of tattered. The clientele when I visited were myself, another young woman about my age, and an older woman who was looking for a Star Trek book along the lines of “The Wrath of Khan.” The proprietor was kind and gentle and found the book right away and was paid about twenty five cents. The woman was course and rough. She sounded like a woman who had lived on the streets, the exercise of talking long and loud makes so many homeless people sound like actors in a strange way. She talked about how she was getting free lance work fixing computers, a trade she taught her self. “I just woke up one morning and I knew that I had it in me. It’s like talking to horses.”
Now, how that woman found that book still boggles my mind. Except I think that there was a Star Trek section, but I guarantee the books were not in any particular order because they certainly weren’t in the rest of the store. They were sectioned off into genres, but no alphabetizing of any kind happened within. My two favorite sections of the store were one called “useless information” which contained the Guinness Books of World Records, sports histories, old geography books, and a few old almanacs. I love that not only had she had made this section and every book within was her judgment on what was generally useless, yet she knew someone would find something in there so the books all remained. The other section was called “Fiction/Non-Fiction” and reminded me of a time when my friend Emily worked in one of those stupidly huge book stores and someone came up to her and asked her where the Non-Fiction novels were. If she only knew then she could have told him “
My snobby part was affronted by the lack of organization and general carelessness in the store. In fact the “Fiction/Non-Fiction” section was the part that upset me the most. How cold a book store operate this way? I mean really! I left disappointed in this “literary” city.
But all was not lost. There were several other bookstores, and I was sure to find what I was looking for in one of them. The first stop was actually not a book store, but a shrine to one of my favorite playwrights: Tennessee Williams.
My dear friends, many of whom are in theatre, I’m sure you will understand the utter shock, dismay, disappointment, revolution and disillusionment when I tell you this: Tennessee Williams house is for sale. It is not a shrine. A plaque on the building has the few years he spent there and that he wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” there, but other then that there is nothing but a for sale sign. Not a book store or even a crappy souvenir shop. How could this happen! In a city where there are drinks named Stella! This play is an homage to the poetic duality that Williams found when he got here. One of his best plays is built on existing themes in the city itself. Jazz plays throughout as an emotional landscape, there really was a tenement called Elysian Fields, and there really was a streetcar named Desire. There were all of these things, before The Hurricane. Gone. There is no place for Desire to go, so they stopped running it. Not that it was a streetcar anymore anyway. The streetcar is in
Around the corner is Faulkner’s house. For being a street called Pirate Alley, this one was by far better maintained. Some one lives in Faulkner’s house, where he wrote “Soldiers Pay.” There is also a book store on the ground floor. No bigger than my living room at home, this little shop was beautiful. The books were almost all new and displayed with care and joy. Here I found Faulkner, Williams, and all the other writers who ever wrote, mentioned or lived in
The next book store was…amazing. Just amazing. I tried to take pictures, but I felt it was rude to go into someone’s business and take pictures. I’m sure someone else on the internet has done it and I’ll use theirs, but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to put it into words. The books were stacked and piled in such away that it seemed the architect of the mess had a mind to creating a replica of the labyrinthineian mountains of
The other book stores were normal, tiny, used book stores. One of them I even bought a significant amount of Tennessee Williams from. Mostly because I found the section easily enough, the books were alphabetized, I was never in fear for my life, and it was the last book store I visited and I needed something to eat. I never did find any Dickens, not a one.
But, when I got home very tired and very hot I did find out how wonderful it is to lay back on a floating mattress in a pool with my feet in the water, a cold lemonade in one hand and Tennessee Williams in the other.