This Side of Eden, the Ideal Bookstore Doesn’t Exist

As a longtime Christian bookseller, I figured I’d enjoy a fellow bookseller’s ode to browsing, buying, and reading. Here’s why it left me feeling conflicted.

When the book In Praise of Good Bookstores released earlier this year, I started hearing from bookish friends and customers of Hearts & Minds, the Pennsylvania bookstore my wife and I have run together for almost 40 years. They would send us links to an interview with the author, Jeff Deutsch, a bookstore manager himself.

For many, the conversation evoked memories and hopes of one of the great pleasures this side of Eden: browsing a well-stocked and interesting bookstore. Naturally, as a longtime bookseller, I shared the interview and devoured the book. But I’ll admit that Deutsch’s perspectives made me a bit uneasy, and I am still trying to decipher my curious reaction toward a book most friends figured I’d commend unreservedly. This side of Eden, few things are as simple as they seem.

Scale and status

In Praise of Good Bookstores gives a fascinating account of a former Jewish kid who grew up to love books and bookselling, and Deutsch waxes eloquent about the joy of connecting book and reader. He offers an intellectually stimulating essay that will appeal to those who like books about books, the reading life, and publishing-world curiosities.

For many CT readers, In Praise of Good Bookstores would no doubt fit seamlessly alongside such titles as Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, Alan Jacobs’s Breaking Bread with the Dead, Jessica Hooten Wilson’s The Scandal of Holiness, and Claude Atcho’s Reading Black Books. Deutsch is as learned as any of those authors, and his obvious passion for books is contagious.

What makes Deutsch’s book stand out (despite an oddly tacky cover) is his status as a bookseller. Like the best of our trade, he is mostly self-taught and exceedingly eclectic …

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