As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, I’m not a big fan of book anthologies. I couldn’t resist, however, going to Politics & Prose last night to see Rick Atkinson (five books, two Pulitzers). Previously with the Washington Post, he’s one of 84 contributors to the just-released, “My Bookstore, Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop.”
The 378-page book is touted as a “heartfelt celebration of the vital joys of browsing, perusing, and community spirit unique to independent bookshops.”
Politics and Prose was a no-brainer. Two years away from what is sure to be a much-celebrated 30th anniversary, the purple-painted store in NW DC is a coveted stop for authors. Staffed with 50 employees, they host about 450 author events each year. Some are standing-room-only and recorded for C-SPAN’s “Book TV.”
Atkinson read his three-page entry and noted how Politics & Prose provided comfort after he wrote his first book in 1988. He compared the lonely act of writing to a ship’s journey. Upon returning to the home shore, the writer seeks the human touch once again. The author repeated this process for each of his four books.
Atkinson also provides insight into why P&P has thrived. He describes Carla Cohen, the late owner and founder, as “savvy, gregarious, and forceful.” When she brought Barbara Meade on board as her co-owner, the two meshed.
Reflecting the nurturing ways of the Politics and Prose operation, past and present leadership was on hand to field questions. They included Meade, co-owner from 1984 to 2011, David Cohen, Carla's widower, and current owners Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine.
The turnout, about 25, was low by P&P standards. That can be explained, however, by the 5:30 p.m. start and the appearance of Jon Meacham (new bio of Thomas Jefferson) tonight and Stephen Colbert (“America Again”) tomorrow.
One long-time patron of the store prefaced his question by noting that before P&P moved in, “Second Floor Books” occupied the space. Meade, pointing up to the store’s steel beams, noted there were two expansions.
Started in on the book. The author list is impressive and includes Douglas Brinkley, Henry Louis Gates, Tom Robbins and Isabele Allende, who calls bookstores, “the cultural soul of a community.”
My most enjoyable read so far comes from an author with humble beginnings. After writing his first novel in 1989, he hit the road and sold them out of his car in Arkansas. Not selling very many, the rookie sank low until Mary Gay, owner of “That Bookstore” in Blytheville began to help. The writer is John Grisham.
With all these great writers, this valentine to the brick and mortars will surely sell well. I could have bought it at Barnes and Noble, located much closer to our house than the cross-town slog during rush hour. I knew, however, the experience would be much, much better at my favorite bookstore. As it does everytime, Politics & Prose nourished my soul.