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Politics and Prose, my favourite book store, is being sold.  After the story broke in the Washington Post, a few people emailed and jokingly said, “you should buy it!” but I just sat against the wall at the twins’ gymnastics class and read it from my blackberry and cried.  I’m really not great with change and the fact was, my first hopeful thought before the reality kicked in that no bank would give me a loan for this coupled with the knowledge that I have no retail book experience, was that I would love to own it.  I would love to sit in that central desk and help customers find books, introduce authors, and flip through the publisher’s catalogs.

I had my very first reading at Politics and Prose, and I will never be able to express how grateful I am to Carla Cohen for sitting with me in her office beforehand, chatting about the book and throwing out suggestions for future ones, and then infusing me with a booster shot of confidence when I realized that I had left my notes at home.

I had my first dates with Josh at Politics and Prose.  That’s where we went a’courting.  That’s where I learned that Josh wasn’t going to move to New York and instead he was going to stay and love me.  That’s where we planned our wedding.  That’s where we wrote our thank you notes after the wedding.  It’s where we started bringing the twins once we could bring them out of the house.  It’s where they love crawling into the little nook under the stairs.

It’s where I hung out with my friends.  It’s where I wrote the majority of my translation project for graduate school.  It’s where I spent so much time that the old cafe owners named a drink after me.  It’s where a large chunk of the books on our bookshelves come from.

You can understand why Washingtonians are emotional and we never want it to change, even if we knew that at the end of the day, the owners were only human and this needed to happen at some point.  But we can never thank Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade enough for starting this space and building it into the sort of space you would want to come back to, day after day, year after year.  And that’s why it meant so much to me to have my first reading there.  Because it was like coming home.

Even if you do not have specific Politics and Prose memories like me, I would love to hear about your favourite book store and how it rests in a little nook in your heart.


1 Kymberli { 06.10.10 at 10:51 pm }

Sadly, I don’t have a favorite bookstore. I think it’s so wonderful that you have a place to which you can connect so many special memories. Do you have any pictures of yourself there? If not, maybe you should have one (or a few) snapped before it’s sold.

2 Sarah { 06.10.10 at 10:52 pm }

I thought about you when I saw that story in the WP. It’s always sad when things we love change, but hopefully the new owners will keep the store alive!

3 Jendeis { 06.10.10 at 11:20 pm }

Sweetie, I’m sorry that you’re having a hard time dealing with this. I do actually think you would make a wonderful bookstore owner. You would give P&P the respect it deserves.

4 PaleMother { 06.10.10 at 11:22 pm }

I saw Naomi Wolf at Politics and Prose once. Amazing to hear about it’s place in your history. I wish I was a secret millionaire. I would buy it for you. Love the thought of you at the desk. And what you would do with that place. Like a brick and mortar version of this blog.

I’ve loved book stores and libraries since I was a kid. My fav bookstore no longer exists. It was near to campus in college. In a slightly boho neighborhood with old, interesting architecture and old-tree lined streets with dappled light in the leafy seasons … not far from a great lake where lake effect snows would brew and blow in. It was next to an art supply store (another passion place). And a funky, old fashioned movie theater. The book store had a little cafe in it that made the most amazing homemade veggie soups and bread — I could live on that stuff.

I had standing date on Fridays with my best BFF evah (me design major, she drawing and painting … she the sister I never had).

It was the upper Midwest and so it was ungodly cold for most of the school year (being a Madison vet, you know exactly what I mean). The snow would be swirling and drifting outside, lovely but also wicked (we HATED the cold, felt it keenly). Inside was all flattering, buttery light and inspiration and music and possibilities and comfort food and great company and excellent conversation and tea and coffee … our whole lives in front of us. And, of course, amazing books. Ideas. The art section. The self-help section. The travel section. The feminist section. The poetry section. The history. The fiction. We devoured and discussed it all.

It was a sanctuary … from my crazy parents’ house where I lived, and for my friend, from the all-male flat where she lived … from the unbelievable pressure of a full load of studio classes and all of the insanely overlapping deadlines — we worked through many an all-nighter to crank out projects. Later, work had plenty of deadline pressures, but at least there I only had one master instead of five or six dueling professors — NTM I got paid. I was much better suited to work than school. School was more of a trial or a hurdle before ‘real’ life began. It was a kind of purgatory and a kind of academic hazing.

Those afternoons of eating soup and bread and then browsing books … have a glow around them in my memory. It was a more tender age, for sure. Maurice Sendak could illustrate it in his scratchy pen and ink and muted palette.

I still love bookstores. But the ones we have here are all the generic variety. The books are still wonderful, but the intimacy and character of that little place is totally lacking. And I suppose … the books don’t call to me in quite the same way. Some of the possibilities are gone. For me, anyway.

5 N { 06.10.10 at 11:35 pm }

J and I were talking about how we wished we had the money (or ability to get a loan) to buy it. Sigh.

My favorite actually probably doesn’t exist anymore; I can’t say. It was a tiny shop in a tiny mall in a tiny town in rural Minnesota. And though it wasn’t anything special in and of itself, it was our Summer Bookstore, the place I could get books for my own (instead of borrowing them from the library), books I knew I’d have the time to sit down and enjoy. It’s where I made my first foray into grown-up literature. And it will always be special to me.

6 Emily (Apron Strings) { 06.10.10 at 11:45 pm }

After living the past year in Chicago, Hubby & I stumbled into Ann Arbor during Michigan Football season (Go Blue!) to find that our favorite bookstore from college days closed. Shaman Books was a staple stop every time we rolled into town. We always found the most interesting books there and the staff were so friendly. Needless to say, we’re absolutely devastated.

Don’t laugh, but Hubby & I absolutely LOVE Borders Bookstores. The first Borders actually existed in Ann Arbor and it’s second store was one that I remember visiting lots of time as a kid. Before it got all sleek and big, the second store (in Birmingham, MI) had THE BIGGEST childrens book section. I would BEG my mom to leave me at that store while she went shopping. And at that time period (early 80’s), it wasn’t all that unheard of to leave your kids at the library or bookstore.

To this day, I have fond memories of Borders, which is why now (especially since they have free WiFi in their cafe’s) Hubby & I find ourselves there quite often.

So sorry about your favorite place. Really … I don’t handle change very well, either!

7 S.I.F. { 06.11.10 at 1:14 am }

In San Diego there was a little used book store on Garnet Avenue tucked in between far too many bars that I just loved. It was small and the books were all packed in there and fairly haphazardly shelved, but I still religiously made all my exchanges there and always walked out with something I had never even heard of. The owner was super anti social (I tried to strike up a conversation with him on multiple occasions to no avail!) but he sat in there by himself every day just reading… I used to think he had the coolest job ever!

8 luna { 06.11.10 at 1:43 am }

oh how I wish you could buy it. it does sound just like home.
there is nothing like a fabulous independent bookstore/coffeeshop, one that is rooted in the community it serves, that becomes a gathering place, a place to inspire knowledge and art.

there is one near me with a huge travel annex. we’ve sat on the cushy chairs for many hours dreaming about and planning trips and excursions for the past 20 years.

9 Kristin { 06.11.10 at 1:57 am }

Sadly, I’ve never lived close enough to a cool, funky bookstore to have a favorite. It just doesn’t cut it to say “Ya know, I really adore that Barnes and Noble in Durham”…even though I do. I can lose myself for hours in any bookstore.

I’m sorry such a special place is closing.

10 Manapan { 06.11.10 at 2:01 am }

It’s nice to know I’m not the only nerd who took dates to bookstores! 🙂

I love the Brookings Book Company. It will always hold good memories of my college years. They have several cats, and you’re always welcome to go in and bring treats or snuggle them even if you aren’t buying anything.

11 Malnurtured Snay { 06.11.10 at 6:59 am }

When I moved to DC, I knew I would need a part-time job, so I decided to work at a bookstore, which I’d always wanted to do, but never had. I do now, downtown near Farragut Square, and I love it. The first bookstore I tried to get a job with was Politics & Prose, but alas, I was told (very kindly), that they don’t hire part-timers, so I had to look elsewhere.

For what it’s worth, retail can be very easy and difficult to learn, but it’s the same as running a business anywhere (bring in more money than you spend = win!). You’ve just got to be passionate about it, and somehow, I get the feeling you’ve got the passion. So go, get the loan. (And maybe change the “no part-timer” policy?)

12 IF Crossroads { 06.11.10 at 7:02 am }

Mel, when I saw the news yesterday morning about Politics and Prose I immediately thought of you. I know you write about the store a lot and it holds a special place in your heart.
You know, as long as I’ve lived in the Washington area (well, really it hasn’t been THAT long, “only” 9 years) I’ve never been to Politics and Prose and now that it’s closing I feel like I need to make a special drive up to the city to visit and pay homage to a place that is so special to so many.

My personal favorite space is back home in Alabama – but it no longer exists. It was an icecream store where I would go with my father on Sunday. It was changed into a meat market 20 years ago but it holds a special place in my heart. Yes, it’s not as glamorous as a museum, but it’s a childhood memory all wrapped up on a black and white tiled floor.

13 susy { 06.11.10 at 7:05 am }

Oh man!! I’m sorry this place is closing. 🙁 The only bookstore I have around that has been my go-to is the local B&N. It wasn’t as local when it first opened, b/c I lived the next county over, but I’d drive up and get lost in it for hours. I did a lot of my homework for college there, listening to (get this!!) my portable CD player(!) as I sat in the Starbucks Cafe, looking out the window, b/c I’m easily distracted by people watching. I’d sit in the back, in the kid section, watching the Littles pretending to read and just enjoying the kids b/c I wanted one so bad. If you don’t have any pictures of you or the kiddies there, go and have some candids taken. Have a tea party w/ the owners to bid them farewell and good luck! Hugs!

14 Heather { 06.11.10 at 8:28 am }

You should buy it.

I grew up in Mayberry where there was no bookstore. However, my grandparents had a fantastic library, and I started devouring their titles at every chance! I’d lay on this old cement bench, situated amongst the tall pines, and read—all summer long!

Buy it. I’ll come visit. 😉

15 Kir { 06.11.10 at 8:32 am }

so sorry your bookstore and source of so many HAPPY MEMORIES is closing Mel…sending lots of hugs.

I love the Moravian Book Store in Bethlehem, but I don’t get there enough to have a drink named after me or even spend a whole lot of time there when I get there. John isn’t much of a reader (NONE) so we don’t spend time there just because.

However, the library where I grew up in Carbondale, PA was two stories and spelled like books ..of course. I loved going there when I was little and even into my teenage years. I love going to the 2nd floor and getting my Summer Book Club materials , where one year I remember it was a Medevil theme, and for every book you read you would get a different colored paper doll of a knight or a lady in waiting etc. I would spend HOURS sitting it that library , at the desks, on the floors, inbetween the stacks. I read “The Never Ending Story” right there on the floor in one Very long afternoon.

Now my favorite place to read is in the car as John drives us to and from work..but sometimes I make it to our deck or to the park in the township and just sit and enjoy the one thing that makes me happy…getting lost in another world for a while.

I agree with Suzy…a fond farewell is in order , a tea party for sure. I wish I could come and share it with you.


16 loribeth { 06.11.10 at 8:33 am }

I’m sorry, Mel. 🙁 I don’t deal with change very well either — I LOVE bookstores of all types & sizes, & it sadly seems the small independents are slowly dying off.

Dh & I have a standing Saturday night date of dinner followed by a visit to the local Chapters (big-box chain = Canadian version of Borders or B&N). Sometimes we go back on Sundays, too, & we rarely leave empty-handed. We rationalize that some people spend their money on alcohol & cigarettes, we buy reading material. ; ) The odd week that we’re not there because we’re away or had somewhere else to be, we like to joke about how the staff must be panicking at the sudden drop in profits.

Sadly, we have noticed over time that there are fewer & fewer books, and more and more journals, afghans, pictures frames, kids’ toys, etc. I imagine that will continue, especially since they’ve recently introduced an e-reader & e-books. In fact, they have curtained off a big chunk of the store right now to expand the kids’ section — by which I think they mean more toys & games, not necessarily more books. It’s frustrating, but there really aren’t many alternatives left these days if you’re a book lover out in the suburbs. 🙁

17 Meredith { 06.11.10 at 8:46 am }

I miss my favorite bookstore and I’m so sorry about Politics & Prose! It was four stories tall, and there was a winding staircase between the levels. People in the cafe were friendly and one lady jokingly asked me “hot chocolate?” every time I came in, remembering that I had ordered it once or twice. It could get really crowded at times. One memory there is that my best friend and I went there after a break up. We went downstairs to the children’s section with our coffee and sat at a short picnic table, where a little girl was drawing with crayons. It was a good spot for our conversation because we could look around and talk about happier times. I need to find a favorite bookstore in my new town!

18 Delenn { 06.11.10 at 9:23 am }

I miss my favorite bookstores–although there are still a few here in Boston/Cambridge…but they are a dying breed, I am afriad.

19 Heather { 06.11.10 at 9:56 am }

I worked in a bookstore for a year because I didn’t want to sit at home while we were cycling but I couldn’t work full time…I loved it (except the red tape bureaucracy of a chain store). I would want that to be my favorite book store except that my choosing to leave included an exceptionally nasty run-in with the manager…

I still love the books and the people there…and oddly enough, that manager is no longer there.

20 stephanie { 06.11.10 at 10:39 am }

Oh wow! Years back, my husband and I took a trip to DC and we stumbled across a bookstore that I refused to leave. I could not ever remember the name of it, but it was Politics and Prose! We had a wonderful night there, selecting books and talking to one another about the titles that interested each of us.

I understand your love of bookstores. I, too, get giddy when I walk into a bookstore or a library. They always feel like home to me, no matter where I am in the world.

21 mrs spock { 06.11.10 at 11:06 am }

There was a used book store called The Book rack in Cincinnati that I loved. They had a section that was classics-only, and apparently I was about the only person to buy from that section. I bought my entire Jane Austen and Bronte sisters collection there, and most of my Dickens. My copy of pride and prejudice now has its cover duct-taped to it, but I’ve read it once a year for 16 years, and its scent still reminds me of The Book Rack, and all the possibility that a room full of books holds.

22 Dora { 06.11.10 at 1:04 pm }

I used to spend hours at the Strand, hunting for treasure. I still prefer old dusty books to shiny new ones.

23 Tara { 06.11.10 at 1:15 pm }

Sorry to hear one of your favourite spots is closing…I love book stores but especially used book stores. I love the smell that wafts over me when I walk in…I can spend hours & hours there & lose complete track of time when I do.

24 Katie { 06.11.10 at 4:57 pm }

I’m so sorry that your favorite bookstore is closing. 🙁 I love bookstores–big ones, small ones. They give me this peaceful feeling when I walk into them. My favorite bookstore, Goering’s (http://www.goerings.com/), closed earlier this year. So I understand the emotions you are going through.

25 Claire { 06.11.10 at 5:42 pm }

Oh Mel — that is such sad news. I am so attached to places and all the stories and momories and imagined memories of the future they hold.

I would sob if Portland’s Powells was closing. It is a touch stone for me. And I only have one memory of Elliot Bay’s book store in Seattle — but it is precious. And then there is the little shop on Lygon street in melbourne that always gives me recs before I board a long haul flight.

I am so sorry…

26 Bea { 06.12.10 at 5:35 am }

Thoughts? Not news. It’s 80/year. And an unspecified proportion are for medical reasons. And every so often, like, a zillionth of all IVF cycles, there are terminations for social reasons. Well colour me shocked if the world isn’t neat and peachy all the time, but honestly, can I get excited about less than 80 non-medical abortions/yr?

Of course these abortions shouldn’t happen. Selective reduction is a result of transferring too many embryos. Technology and insurance both need to be better so people can confidently choose to transfer one at a time. We need to work on those things because nobody should have to make the heartbreaking decision to selectively reduce – or if it happens, it should be one of those rare pieces of bad luck, like the person who naturally conceives quintuplets she can’t carry to term, a situation where nobody (certainly not those who refuse to fund fertility treatments or research) is to blame.

Lethal genetic or developmental conditions shouldn’t happen, in an ideal world. It is just too cruel. We can probably screen some of these out prior to transfer, but I don’t believe we will ever erase the tragedy completely. Again, we need to do everything we can to reduce these instances to rare occurrences where nobody (certainly not those who lobby against PGD even for lethal conditions) is to blame.

As for marriages – well, nobody should have to find out their husband is having an affair. Husbands shouldn’t have affairs. People should get their happily-ever-after. If the relationship isn’t going to survive, somebody should be able to divine that up front, so the woman doesn’t have to go through treatment, only to discover the mistake at past-the-last minute. There isn’t a lot you can do about this, except call in the fertility police on all couples, regardless of whether they need assisted conception or not (an idea which has been put forward as having certain merits, but ultimately far too many drawbacks). (I guess you would also call in the pregnancy termination police whilst you’re at it.) I suspect the fertile community has a greater share in this type of termination than the infertile community, so I don’t see why IVF patients should be targeted. I mean, I don’t really see why they should be targeted at all, but especially given the proportionally small numbers, why target them?

On another note, I would have a tea shop. In the mountains. You’re invited!


27 Bea { 06.12.10 at 5:37 am }

P.S. The tea shop will also have books in it.


28 Bea { 06.12.10 at 5:42 am }

Ok! So that’s what I get for opening six of your posts at once.

At least I managed to locate my rant. For the last five minutes, I’ve been afraid my long missive on the ethics of infertility treatment had been posted on the blog of a rather mild-mannered economist.

Obviously, this is a response to your latest post. Although I am sorry about the bookshop closing. Are you sure you can’t buy it? How much can an internationally-renowned bookshop in DC really be, anyway?


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