A few weeks ago, I was visiting friends in Iowa for a few days, and I obviously had to make a stop in Firehouse Books, an independent bookstore in the downtown area. I hadn’t been in a long time, and enjoyed rediscovering this place.
Firehouse Books is located on the ground floor of a former hotel, and the only windows are the front ones you see in the photo. Lots of flourescent lighting and low ceilings give one the impression of browsing in someone’s finished basement – there are even random nature posters and taxidermy animals on the walls, and a piece of stained glass at the back, because why not. I love a chaotic bookstore, and Firehouse Books certainly fits the bill there. The sections are arranged seemingly at random (delightfully, there’s an entire bookcase devoted to Westerns), and books have been crammed in wherever they’ll fit, like the $1 clearance books, which are stored in an old dresser. This photo gives you an idea of the organized chaos at work (please note the unorganized pile of books on the middle table, and the table to the right with a snowman-patterned tablecloth):
Love it. So obviously, I had to spend a few hours exploring and poking around the shelves. I bought four books, because I have a problem, and my total came to $34 (the only drawback of this place was that it was slightly more expensive than other bookstores I’ve visited, with the average price of a paperback being eight or nine dollars) Here’s what I found:
1. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf
Because one can never own enough Virginia Woolf books. This was her last novel, apparently, and that’s about all I know about it. But flipping through the pages, I came across this passage: “It was in that deep centre, in that black heart, that the lady had drowned herself. Ten years since the pool had been dredged and a thigh bone recovered. Alas, it was a sheep’s, not a lady’s. And sheep have no ghosts, for sheep have no souls. But the servants insisted, they must have a ghost; the ghost must be a lady’s; who had drowned herself for love. So none of them would walk by the lily pool at night, only now when the sun shone and the gentry still sat at table.” ON BOARD.
2. Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory
I haven’t read any Arthurian stuff since my Mists of Avalon obsession back in high school, so I’m looking forward to getting back into the world of
Spamalot Camelot. With this and my earlier purchase of Bullfinch’s Mythology in the last bookstore trip I took, I seem to be attempting to scratch a mythological itch lately.
3. Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser
I’ve never actually read a nonfiction book about Mary before (I have always and will always be staunchly Team Elizabeth), but the little bits of information I’ve managed to glean about her in the course of my Tudor reading have always intrigued me – especially that time when she and her boyfriend maybe murdered a guy. Antonia Fraser is not my favorite historian, but I’m looking forward to seeing Mary’s perspective for once.
4. The Theatres of Paris by J. Brander Matthews
This is the one that drove up the haul cost – there was no price tag on it when I brought it to the register, and although the guy said that it was originally $25, he knocked the price down to $15. And considering that this book was written in 1880 and is still in pretty decent condition, that’s a damn good deal as far as I’m concerned. I bought this because I love theater and Paris, and also I’m an absolute sucker for antique books that have gold leaf and a sheet of tissue paper over every illustration. The book covers, as advertised, the different theaters in Paris at the time, and also discusses the major stage actors of the time. I found, to my absolute delight, that Sarah Bernhardt is here, in the section about the Comedie-Francaise, and is described as a “new-comer” (also with “a Jewish-looking face” because yay vintage racism!). To show you a picture of the book, you’ll notice that I had to take a picture of the copy that I bought, because extensive Googling revealed no existing pictures of the cover. Which is, frankly, awesome.