Essay: A bookstore dies; writing and reading Islanders lament

Essay: A bookstore dies; writing and reading Islanders lament

It’s a very sad thing to hear that Edgartown Books is closing its doors, even if it’s understandable given the economy and the twilight of not just neighborhood bookstores but quite possibly of the physical book itself. Edgartown Books was a great shop, owned by kind people who should have broken even at least. Fortunately, we still have the Bunch of Grapes and the Book Den East, so let’s all go there and buy something quickly.

In the long run, though, we of the Vineyard must take what solace we can from knowing that we have Mitzi Pratt with her book bindery up in Aquinnah. Mitzi crafts exquisite volumes in the old style, and even the few gleaming machines and presses she uses are objects of beauty. When the book business finally collapses all the way back to where it was when books were artistic, handmade, small-batch heirlooms created by illuminated men in brown bathrobes with bad haircuts, we’ll have the best binder in the business right up on Moshup’s Trail. (Mitzi, by the way, has lovely hair and a thoroughly stylish wardrobe.)

Should the Bunch of Grapes go down, Mitzi’s bindery could be the salvation of us all. Us being the legion of “Vineyard writers.” It should not be news to anyone that we have a lot of great writers right here on the Island. The Vineyard is blessed that way. We have local food from local farms. We have local newspapers and local radio, local beer and local bands. We have local painters — interior, exterior, landscape and portrait. We used to have local wine and we may still have local vinegar. We even have local politicians.

So maybe we should read local, too. Mitzi can bind up enough copies every year for the Island readers, and we writers — we few, we happy not so few — can hand deliver them, because there is no bookstore left to sell them. (God save the Bunch of Grapes.)

I have three books by local writers on my bedside table right now that I am very much looking forward to reading. Additionally, I’m in a local book group, for which the only off-Island book that I can remember reading in the past eight years was Moby Dick. (Sorry Quequeg, I didn’t say it was very far off-Island.) And in case you’re wondering, one of those local books on my bedside table is not by me. Soon, though, soon, my beloved public. Okay, not that soon.

I want to read these local books as quickly as possible. They are not just good words, but Ward Just is sure to finish another book soon. I love that Ward Just writes so many books, except when I’m feeling terribly jealous. His books always go to the top of my reading stack, you see, and not just because he occasionally comes to the aforementioned book group.

Someone asked me recently how I felt about the closing of the Edgartown Bookstore, in terms of the demise of yet another venue to sell the books I have personally written. It’s a blow to readers and writers alike to lose another bookstore. It is, however, an opportunity to associate myself with Thoreau, which is some kind of consolation. Thoreau was a well-known off-Islander who, when he had no place to sell his books, said something like, “I now have a library of nearly 900 volumes, more than 700 of which I wrote myself.”

Paul Schneider lives in West Tisbury. His most recent book is “Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend” (Henry Holt, 2009).