This week’s Spotlight on Bookstores is written by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. Ms. Tuccelli is the author of Glow, a novel set in the south over about century (1836-1941). It encompasses Cherokee lore, racial prejudice, and the anxiety of pre-WWII US.
Publisher’s Weekly says ““In Tuccelli’s sweeping debut, mothers and daughters are fiercely tethered over six generations and beyond death . . . [The] elaborately woven plot serves the story well, peppering the novel with moments of lingering beauty and shocking violence.”
Not only is Glow high on my to-be-read list, but after reading Ms. Tuccelli’s essay, Three Lives & Company is high on my to-be-visited list! The “old fashioned” charm of the store, the knowledgable staff, and the atmosphere of (in Tuccelli’s words) “a shop, not a store,” call to me. My next trip to New York will include a visit to Greenwich Village and Three Lives & Company!
Sunday, March 4, 2012. 3:30PM
The entrance harkens back to a different era. From the corner of 10th Street and Waverly Place, I pass through bronze-knobbed, red-framed, glass-paned double doors. The cacophony of taxi horns and fire engine sirens behind me, I cross the threshold into a sanctuary for books and the people who love them, Three Lives & Company, founded in 1968 by three women and named for a Gertrude Stein novella.
Even the ampersand in the shop’s moniker stimulates my sense of nostalgia. (Originally a ligature of the letters e and t—“et” is the Latin word for “and”—the ampersand dates back to early Roman times.) Do not be mistaken; this is a shop, not a store. Within a mere 800 square feet, soft tungsten light spills from green glass lamps onto bookcases and hardwood floors as worn as the tin ceiling above, the latter a reminder of the building’s age, close to a hundred years. Music—a mix of classical, folk, acoustic guitar, jazz—woos me, inviting me to connect to times and places other than my own, precisely what I desire when I am selecting a book, which is what I have set out to do this blustery winter afternoon.
This is the first time I have noticed these details in depth. For years I have been drawn to Three Lives & Company, purchasing most of my books here, and yet I never stopped to consider why I found the experience so satisfying. By nature and profession, I am an observer, a recorder of detail. In this case, however, the details, seamless and seductive, had eluded me, an indication of how well designed the space is, how welcoming and knowledgeable the staff is, how well presented the books are.
From behind the sales desk someone always welcomes me. Often, it is the proprietor, Toby Cox. A bespectacled, sinewy man, he purchased the shop from the founders eleven years ago, not long after I moved to Greenwich Village. New to the neighborhood, I discovered it upon a walk familiarizing myself with my environs. Wherever I have lived, I have sought the comfort of an independent bookstore. In an indie, the salespeople love books as much as the customers. An indie is part of the community, and creates its own community within. This particular afternoon, we are ten customers, and I overhear conversations about book reviews, Leonard Lopate, publishing, and teaching. Toby and his associate, Carol, seem to know everyone here. The atmosphere is cozy, as if I were in a good friend’s home or an English college professor’s proverbial study, but without the disorder. No, here is where order is found: According to Toby, Jenny Feder, one of the founders, designed the layout of the shop and built the bookcases herself to allow the books to speak for themselves: In the front of the shop, all hardcover fiction and non-fiction titles are displayed face out so that the customer can enjoy the cover artwork. In the back of the shop are cupboard-like nooks the perfect height for scanning the paperbacks they contain. In front of one of the nooks is a wooden stool with a red cushion, my favorite spot to sit and thumb through my stack of potential purchases, which is what I do now.
Once I make my selection, The Art of Fielding for me, the new Nathan Englander collection of short stories for my husband, I proceed to the checkout desk. As one of two youthful clerks rings up my purchase, Erik Tobias Quam peers out at us from a 1910 black-and- white photograph. Quam was Toby’s great-grandfather and namesake, and the photograph is his talisman, watching over Toby and the shop. I am grateful to both.
Before I leave, I take a long view of the shop, deliberately drinking in all its delicious details: two old typewriters, a portrait of Virginia Woolf, bookends in the shape of the front and back ends of a dachshund, a bowl of reading glasses (for use, not for sale), and a sampler bearing the words of Thomas Jefferson: “I cannot live without books.” I could not agree more.