Tag Archives: bookstore

Books: An eye on Myopic Books in Providence’s Wayland Square

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — This is the second of two posts on the book stores in Wayland Square on the East Side. The first post featured Books on the Square, an independent bookseller, and this one features Myopic Books, a used and rare book shop with more than 25,000 volumes.

The store is owned by Kristin Sollenberger, a visual artist and businesswoman who studied at Rhode Island School of Design. Wayland Square is near RISD and Brown, and it’s a great place to walk around — and between Books on the Square and Myopic Books it’s a great place to buy books. Sollenberger said:

I think people are lucky to have both of us in this area.

Her shop has been open since 1996. Its emphasis, as per the web page, is “scholarly books, literature and books on the arts.” I enjoyed the philosophy and biography sections, picking up a few biographies for me and a copy of Poetics for my dad. There was a great selection of Loeb classical library books, too.

Kristin Sollenberger, owner of Myopic Books in Providence, R.I.

There’s art throughout — no surprise — including art featuring eyeballs, hand-made cards made from “book debris,” and an “Art-O-Mat,” which dispenses original artworks. And, though best enjoyed in better weather than the cold spell when I was around, a courtyard out back.

The name of the store originated with Sollenberger’s hand-made card company. The name, she said, reflects this:

It’s sort of my vision, which may be tunnel vision of what a good book should be that I should have on my shelves.

Sollenberger, who has a painting degree, worked at another bookshop, managing a cafe. She bought out the inventory when that shop closed to open Myopic Books. She said:

I just liked books. I have ever since I discovered used bookstores. You never know what you can find going to used bookstores.

The day I visited she sported a slight black eye — a book-shelving wound.

I was at the top shelf. One tipped over and hit me in the eye. It was up beyond my reach.

She also opened a store in Wakefield, R.I., which lasted about two years.

I kind of had to move two stores into one.

Myopic shows it. The place it packed with books. The store has done well in Wayland Square, and Sollenberger had a great holiday season. I asked about how business stays strong.

I feel I was very lucky getting this location. And being selective about inventory, and keeping it moving.

In addition to the cards, there were some craft-style artworks for sale on the wall when I visited. But the business is books,despite the artistic touches around the shop. Sollenberger said:

I guess since I don’t have much time for my artwork, this is like my artwork.

And a couple of young men came in to sell books, and the owner bought a few — keeping it moving.

Myopic Books, at 5 S. Angell St., can be reached via (401) 521-5533. The website can be found at this link. For the first post, follow this link.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Books: A community’s independent shop, and life without Borders

A customer reads in the front section of Books on the Square, an independent book shop in the Wayland Square neighborhood on Providence, R.I. Photo by John Doucette.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Wayland Square neighborhood on this city’s East Side is a great place to be a book hunter. The area has two terrific book shops, the independent bookstore Books on the Square and the rare and used shop Myopic Books.

I visited both while I was home in Rhode Island for the holidays. This post focuses on Books on the Square, and another post on Myopic Books will follow in the next few days,

I got the dime tour over the holidays from Chris Byrnes, a bookseller and leader of three of the shop’s weekly story times. Video follows:

This past summer, two Borders locations in the area closed. In July, Books on the Square manager Jennifer Doucette (no relation) told Publishers Weekly that Borders had not had much effect on business:

Our store is really blessed. We’re in a great neighborhood with lots of families walking around. We’re up, just a little bit, and we just renewed our lease for another five years.

Since the Borders closed, business has been strong. Aside from the book store at Brown University, Byrnes noted:

When it comes to Providence, we’re kind of it for new books.

Bookseller John Duvernoy.

Brooke Huminski, a regular customer at Books on the Square, shops.

The shop is designed for community involvement, and it hosts story times for kids, a variety of reading groups, a discussion of ideas called the Socrates Cafe, and even community meetings. Byrnes said Doucette put the central book racks on wheels, so they can be moved aside for large events. And the shop has a large children’s section, a point of pride. Byrnes said:

We want to create a place where people can relax and not be part of the rat race. They can come and pick up a book or a magazine.

Brooke Huminski, a graduate student studying social work, is a regular. She said:

I love this bookstore. There’s a personal feel to it and a lot of community events.You can find things in it from best sellers to idiosyncratic books.

Customer Bill Dilworth added:

I like supporting local businesses, and this has books you might not see at chain stores.

I asked Dilworth about being in neighborhood with two great bookstores. He replied:

It’s impoverishing. If I go into either of these places just to look, I almost invariably get something I didn’t intend to purchase.

Books on the Square is at 471 Angell St. on Providence’s East Side. Find out more about the shop via its website at this link. A post on Myopic Books is forthcoming.

Customer Bill Dilworth checks out the selection at Books on the Square.

Booksellers Chris Byrnes and Richard Scott.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Books: The sciences and humanities under one roof

Dr. George Siscoe, proprietor of Old Professor's Bookshop on Main Street in Belfast, Maine. Photo by John Doucette.

BELFAST, Maine — I hit a few bookstores while vacationing here, and this is a small downtown that actually has a few of them.

My favorite was Old Professor’s Bookshop.

The shop prides itself on its collection of books on or about Darwin and its purposeful marriage of works on the sciences and the humanities. One display near the front door contained Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey’s paleoanthropology book Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind, resting next to Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey Into Night. A bust of Aristotle is not far from the checkout desk. And a remarkable display case, a remnant of the building’s past as a jewelry store, contains enough texts and items of scientific interest that you could spend a full visit examining that alone.

It is run by George Siscoe and Nancy Crooker, a couple. Both are research professors affiliated with Boston University after years on the West Coast.

Crooker’s research areas include heliospheric and solar-terrestrial physics. Siscoe’s  include space plasma physics, geoespace environmental modeling, and space weather. Crooker called the bookshop, open since 2008, a “retirement project” with books hand selected by her husband:

It’s been a gift. It’s so different from what we’ve done in the past.

Siscoe gives a tour of the store in a video below, addressing his goals of collecting “foundational books.” (Email subscribers to this blog may have to view it on the online version.)

Siscoe said:

It’s a small store, as you see, and so I’ve divided it into two halves. This side has the science side, so I call that the ‘what is’ side. And that side is the humanities side, so I call that the ‘what matters’ side. You need both what is and what matters to be a rounded person. That’s the connection.

One reason I loved this store, and am writing about it here, is that it pushed me outside my comfort area, which is what great bookstores (and great professors, for that matter) can do.

My reading tends to be squarely on the humanities side, and it’s fairly limited to writing, journalism, history, sports, and literary titles. Plus Elmore Leonard. On Siscoe’s recommendation, I picked up several science books, including The Life of the Grasshopper by the French entomologist Jean Henri Fabre. The book’s first line:

Fame is built up mainly of legend; in the animal world, as in the world of men, the story takes precedence of history.

Fabre uses his initial chapter to discuss folklore and storytelling. The he revises that narrative, gently but strongly based on science, observation, and his own storytelling. I couldn’t put it down, and bought another Fabre book the next day. Chances are, my opportunities in scientific research remain slim, but I have a better understanding of Fabre’s topic and works, which I probably would not have explored otherwise, and I learned a bit about writing and storytelling from an entomologist.

My trip to Belfast coincided with the first days of the Belfast Bound Book Festival, and an estimated 25,000 volumes were for sale in many stores in the immediate area.

At Old Professor’s Bookstore, a slate of experts who held Q&As at the store included Dr. Kerry Emanuel of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, who discussed climate change. My wife and I caught the talk and picked up one of his books.

Belfast also hosts an annual poetry festival in October and has an active arts community. If you ever head to Belfast, there is some book hunting to be done at several locations. If I head back next summer, as tentatively planned, I’ll start my hunting with Old Professor’s Bookshop, since that’s where I did all of my book buying this year.

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, (207) 338-2006. Worth checking out.

The microscope near the checkout desk, and a few samples to examine.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,