There’s an international organization founded by Richard Booth in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, which promotes “Book Towns.” The idea behind the organization is to promote sustainable rural development and tourism, by recognizing communities like Hay-on-Wye that are known for their literary culture. The group also organizes biannual book festivals. The 2016 Book Town festival will be held in St-Pierre-de-Clages, Switzerland.
While there are not any designated Book Towns in North America yet, we suggest Belfast, Maine, as one likely candidate, as it features more than one excellent bookshops.
One shop not to be missed in Belfast is the Old Professor’s Bookshop. It’s not Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, but when entering it does feel as if one has crossed over some sort of portal. The shop is bisected: mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geology, physics, chemistry, biology, nature and other sciences to the right, literature, philosophy, psychology, religion, mythology and history and other humanities to the left, neatly balanced. One halfway expects to find Anubis and Thoth (weighing one’s knowledge, rather than one’s heart) lurking somewhere, but instead is likely to find the congenial owner, George Siscoe. In an article about the bookshop, the philosopher Schopenhauer is quoted: “A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones, for life is short.” The Old Professor’s Bookshop is where you will find a most excellent selection of good books. It’s fairly certain that if you were to read all the volumes on its shelves, you, too, would qualify as a professor. (You might be old, too, because it would take you a while.)
But enough silliness. The real professor is the owner, “whose areas of research include space plasma physics, geospace environment modeling, and space weather. He is currently interested in increasing understanding of magnetospheric structure and behavior through numerical simulations.” He is an expert in heliophysics. Perhaps of note, he chose to move to Maine because of the weather. (We offer this tidbit because we think he has read more than us, ergo: smarter.) But by opening a bookstore (originally seeded with works from his personal library), the welcoming proprietor provides a refuge for the seeker of knowledge. “The general theme is that these books are supposed to satisfy the two big questions: What is? and What matters? That’s basically what this shop does,” Siscoe said.
One of our finds was a volume of the Audobon Society Field Guides, which we have reviewed here. Specifically, we found “North American Fishes, Whales & Dolphins,” and were delighted to round out our collection with this mint condition book for a mere $7.50. Another fine aspect of the shop is its display of antique scientific equipment, as well as contemporary microscope for children visiting the store to use.
This is a bookstore with a distinct identity, and a brilliantly curated selection. People of the book, make the pilgrimage!
99 Main St.
Belfast, ME 04915