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Tuesday
Mar282017

Requiem for the New England Mobile Book Fair

I grew up with the New England Mobile Book Fair.  As a child, I spend many hours exploring its packed and pleasantly disorganized shelves.  It was more than a bookstore.  It was an institution like no other.  Many a rainy Saturday, I went looking for a new book to read and ended up spending the day at the Book Fair.  Frequently, I would stay until closing, time passing quickly as I discovered strange new worlds and new civilizations hiding behind colorful, glossy covers.  Sometimes, when I intended only to sample a few pages, I would end up reading an entire book.  My purchases were limited not so much by budget as by what I could fit in the basket of my bicycle.

There was a lot to love about the Book Fair.  The vast remainder section.  The wonderful Strymish family who started and ran the store not so much as a business, but as a passion.  But most of all what made the Book Fair unique was its organizational approach to new books.  Rather than sorting them by author or topic, it presented them by publisher (then by author within a publisher), forcing shoppers to seach through books they were not looking for in order to find the book for which they had come.  Often, this meant encountering books one never would otherwise have sought -- and falling in love with them.  New genres.  New authors.  Strange little books that would never have seen the light of day in an organized, modern bookstore.

I mourn for the Book Fair, not because it is leaving its warehouse-like home that belied the "Mobile" in his name for generations.  Rather, I mourn it for the slow death it has suffered over the last year or so, as its shelves have been emptied and its remaining books reorganized.  It will not die when it moves.  The Book Fair I fell in love with is already dead.  It may be a fine new modern book store, but it will not be the playground that it was for so many years.  It will just be another bookstore.  Which is still a good thing.  It is nice to have bookstores in time where the Internet has wiped out major chains and independent sellers alike. But while it may keep its name, the New England Mobile Book Fair loved by generations of Newton residents -- and many others from throughout the region -- will be gone forever.

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