17 March 2004

Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop

Graham Sleight just posted the news that the Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop in Boston is closing.

It would take me pages to list all of the books I have bought there, a place I first went when I was, I think, twelve years old. There was a science fiction bookstore in Cambridge that I found, but they didn't have Nevil Shute's On the Beach (I've always loved after-the-bomb stories) and told me to try Avenue Victor Hugo. Odd name for a store, I thought. But I and my uncle, who was my guide that day, got on the T and went to what was then known as the Auditorium stop, climbed up the urine-soaked stairs, and walked a few paces down Newbury Street. The small shopfront disguised the depths hidden inside.

No trip to Boston since then has ever neglected a visit to Avenue Victor Hugo, if I could help it. On every visit, I seemed to find at least one book I'd been searching for for months or years.

I'll have to make one more trip down there before they close. A year or so ago, they moved a few numbers up on Newbury Street, to the other side of Johnson Paint, and so in some ways the store I loved, the only address in Boston I know by heart (339 Newbury Street) has already died. But once it's gone, truly gone -- once the Hynes Convention Center stop on the T, which used to be Auditorium, the sweetest word on Earth, no longer leads to a place of overstuffed shelves of every imaginable kind of book, of racks of obscure magazines and bizarre postcards, of old pulps with bug-eyed monsters and big-bosomed broads sprawled over the covers, of new hardcovers from tiny presses run by love and obsession, of mystery, of imagination, of nostalgia, of beauty -- once it's gone, then we who loved that place will be left wandering the streets, a little dazed, a little sad, looking for all we have lost.

Addendum: And now I learn that The Grolier Poetry Bookshop in Cambridge (Mass., not England) is closing. This is the oldest all-poetry bookstore in the country, a place visited by many of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Perhaps it's crazy to expect a poetry bookstore to survive at all, and, as the article notes, they've come close to closing before. But getting the news of both Avenue Victor Hugo's impending demise and Grolier's on one day is devastating. (I think I'm being punished for the stuff about Mel Gibson a few posts earlier...) What's next, New England Mobile Book Fair? The Strand in New York? (No no no, don't even get me started on bookstores that have closed in New York...)