Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Paris has Shakespeare and Company, Portland has Powell’s Books. . .and Ojai has Bart’s Books. Sprawling around the corner of Matilija and Canada Streets, Bart’s Books claims the distinction of being the largest independent outdoor bookstore in the country. It’s also known for its honor system: since 1964, Richard Bartinsdale has allowed patrons to select books from his open-air bookcases after hours and leave their payments in the front door slot.

Poking around the labyrinth corners of Bart’s Books was a late-afternoon pleasure one Saturday earlier this summer. Where to go? What to pick up? From first editions to used paperbacks, Bart’s had everything in between. Was it possible to decide on just one book to bring home? The choices were overwhelming.

As magically as Harry Potter’s wand selecting him, a book was waiting for me. By the time I wended my way to the history section, I was ready to ease into a rattan patio chair. I looked down on the adjacent table and sitting there by itself was a decent-sized paperback, The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes: The Story of George Scovell. My kind of book. Who was I to argue with that kind of serendipity?

That book started something of a Napoleonic era reading streak. I’ve already mentioned that I went on to the Count of Monte Cristo, far more suspenseful than I had anticipated, and Mansfield Park. These three books were surprisingly connected with their shared themes about class distinctions and trueness of character. They could not have fit together better than if I had planned it so.

My time for summer reading is now over. With the fall semester underway, I’m back to reading along with the courses taught in the Master of Liberal Studies program which I direct. Since it’s just the first week of class, I see freshmen carrying new books and actually reading them in between classes. That won’t last long – the first football weekend and exhaustion from fraternity and sorority rushes usually puts an end to that. For now I look at them sitting on campus benches, under the trees in Alumni Park next to my office, and wonder if they’d ever consider getting lost in a maze of a bookstore to be a wonderful way to spend a summer Saturday?

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