Alone Among Others

Books connect us with others, but that connection is created in solitude, one reader in one chair hearing one writer, what John Irving refers to as one genius speaking to another. Its simple to order books on-line, over the phone, or via catalogue and wait for the delivery man to scurry away before we open the door. But 90 percent of us who buy books still get out of the house and go to the bookstore, to be among books, yes, but also to be among other book buyers, the like-minded, even if we might never say a word to them. Elias Canetti has described cafés as places we go to be “alone among others,” and I’ve always felt this was true of the bookstore, too. It’s a lovely combination, this solitude and gathering, almost as if the bookstore were the antidote for what it sold.

So writes Lewis Buzbee in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, a suitably easygoing book to follow To the Lighthouse.This afternoon I spent an hour “alone among others” in Lutyens & Rubenstein. That a new independent bookshop opened in Notting Hill last October is gratifying. The shelves are filled with few books that would fail to entertain and illuminate. If you live nearby and haven’t visited, go tomorrow. Otherwise make a detour and go anyway.