Friday, May 17, 2013

City Lights: a time capsule for books & more

I was anxious being that close to the Sci-Fi section. Around the corner from the English Lit and General Fiction aisles, the Sci-Fi route seemed esoteric. Perhaps a little creepy, even. Those aisles extended far back into the musty (but, all the same, sweet smelling) bouquet of used books and paraphernalia. I kept my distance. I didn’t make eye contact with those who wandered into the depths of monster clad covers. I think I believed if I gave a second glance in that direction, I would somehow be sucked in and never return. 

Instead, I buried myself in a claustrophobic corner of classics. My first few visits to City Lights were out of necessity. As a student, and new to the area, I sought out bargain prices for college reading. Yet as I became acquainted with the sights, smells, and tactile pleasures of this curiosity shop, I became addicted. 

Old, tattered copies of Plath, Byron, and De Beauvoir were easily found here. But the mix of vinyl, movies, and music to accompany the towering used books made this a complex cultural destination where I could never leave empty handed. 

It was sometimes a hot spot for crossing paths with local pals. On more than one occasion, it was the meet-up place where a few moments of book browsing would segue to a lazy walk around the downtown core, followed by an hour or three at the corner coffee shop where the philosophical debates were as sweetly suffocating as the then-allowed-smoke. 

City Lights Bookshop in London ON 
(halfway between Toronto and Detroit). 
The shop’s been around since 1975, but my prime time in that world took place in the late 90s. Maybe it was the early emo indie sounds broadcasting overhead. Maybe it was the college break-up/make-up/break-up cycles worked out between the narrow aisles and crunched corners of Woolf, Sartre, and Camus. Maybe it was the constant dare to time a quick book shop stop with the last late bus ride home. Whatever it is, whatever it was, there’s a little piece of nostalgia nestled in that old building. 

And once in a while, when I pull a slightly worn paperback off my office bookshelf, that familiar smell of aged paper and ink, mixed with college unease-meets-indifference, reawakens a moment from the past and transports me to another place, even without the sci-fi time machines to take me there.

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