New cities mean new used bookstores. Black Swan Books, 505 Maxwell St. in Lexington, KY, is definitely a place to stop into on your travels. It has flown its way into my Top 5 of bookstores.
I’ve naturally evolved and moved away from buying a typical, conventional souvenir from one of the several kitschy shops. It’s not to say I wouldn’t go into one of the latter gift stores; sometimes a magnet or shot glass is an ideal gift depending on a person. Instead, I’ll choose a local coffee, brew or spirit, or something along those lines to enjoy and share — maybe these would entice others to visit themselves.
There is a sentimentality with the not-so-typical acquisitions. Less Than Jake’s Hello Rockview came out around the same time as a high school trip to Boston and Cape Cod. The infectiously catchy album isn’t my favorite release from the ska-punk band, but it has added to the soundtrack from a chapter of my teenage years.
Books produce the same effect. The experience of obtaining them also has a lot to say
On Saturday, March 23, Black Swan Books’ 30-plus-year owner Mike, sat behind his desk, which faced the entrance from a distance. Glasses, which were eventually moved to hang around his neck, sat on his face. He greeted people as they came through the door. Some looked familiar to him, and others, including myself, did not. After coming out of the room near the entrance, he let me know there were other rooms in the store.
From the outside, Black Swan Books doesn’t look as large as it is. Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga Springs is equally deceiving. (Take a virtual tour of Black Swan at its website.) The Lexington store, however, is more organized; however, the haphazard aesthetics of Lyrical Ballad is charming.
The patient process of looking for a book bears a romantic quality. There are also literary aspects found throughout a store — obvious and not-so-obvious themes. In Black Swan’s case(s), a couple of the rooms boast a literal black swan.
The bathroom, however, does not.
In a used bookstore, there is a great chance a particular novel, collections of an artist’s paintings, comic book, or poetry will not be found. Yet, something else usually pops out, a literature golden nugget not on the biblio radar. An analogy for many things in life, right?
Two paperbacks stood out on this visit. Walking around a bit with whatever I’m holding in my hands usually ends with one or all being placed back on the shelves. It wasn’t the case this time, and the combined cost was far less than getting one new read.
I didn’t think about the titles until having a conversation with Mike at checkout.
A Night in the Cemetery: And Other Stories of Crime and Suspense by Anton Chekhov was the second book I found.
Russian authors are never on my radar. I find them a bit verbose. The notable Russian novelists’ writings are very intelligent, but the lengthy works never appealed to me — says the older version of the pre-teen who read Stephen King’s IT in nine days.
The first my eyes fell upon is by wonderful author — Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez. I attempted twice reading his Love in the Time of Cholera, because of John Cusack’s characters telling me to do so. If you want a dry love story, go for it. I’ll probably eventually finish it at some point in my life, but it’ll be bit-by-bit and before I go to bed … or the evenings when I’m having trouble sleeping.
Mike was battling something. He was making light of whatever it was in between sneezing fits. I chimed in with something not witty, like he’s all out of God-Bless-Yous and Gesundheits. It was when he looked at the books’ prices, he pointed out the similarities of my choices.
What’s with the books about death? Do you have something on your mind?
The curtain lifted from my face, revealing my surprise. Wow. Here I was thinking I was buying books of authors I normally don’t read to try something new.
Mike laughed. We talked about the toll of allergies, my first impression of his store, and that I was from out of town.
My girlfriend came to Lexington for a conference, I said. I’d never been to Kentucky before, so it was easy agreeing to coming along.
He asked what the conference was about, and I told him hippotherapy and added that Katey is an occupational therapist — without mentioning occupational.
Without missing a beat, Mike said, Well, that explains the books about death.
I could have talked to the guy for a while longer. Aside from his owning a bookstore, he came across very well-read. He’s a conversationalist. Black Swan is one of those places I’d love to hang out in and do work, bring the guy a coffee and shoot the shit. He was one of the many friendly people we came across in Lexington. They excel in friendliness down there.
These simple friendly qualities were constant reminders to be kind.
A few hours after Black Swan Books, I ended up driving a woman at from the conference to the airport. She lived in the Capital Region of New York. I asked and the small town outside of Albany sounded all too familiar. She professionally knew my college roommate, who taught in the same school district she’s worked with.
That weekend would have more interactions in store for us, this making the world feel that much smaller.