Remembering The Book Mart

I’ve been thinking about The Book Mart lately. It was a bookstore on the corner of Sixth and Court Streets in Reading, PA from 1935 to 1998. When I was a kid, I practically haunted the place. It was the biggest and best bookstore in the area and during my adolescence was my private nirvana. I searched around recently and came up with the above picture, which was taken in the store on Boxing Day 1972, which was exactly the time I was hanging out there. (But I’m not in the picture.) It was in an old building, with linoleum floors that weren’t always level, funny lighting, and cluttered with old book racks stuffed to the ceilings with books. I loved the place.

And it had a science fiction section! And I was there so often the clerks knew me and knew my tastes and often had some newly published book ready to show me when I walked in. I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien at this store. Tolkien’s works were shelved with the science fiction in those days, because there was no such thing as a “fantasy” section in a bookstore in the 1970s. They bagged your books in heavy plastic bags with a cotton drawstring. The bags were printed with the slogan “Our bag is books.”

(For the benefit of you young people, that was because in the early 1970s, when you said something was your “bag,” that meant you were like, way into it, man. So they printed “Our bag is books” on the bags they put your books in. Get it?)

I was way into books. But in time, I moved, and later the store closed. A Vietnamese restaurant that I was fond of moved into the space, and that was great because I could still go there and look around the space. I would reconstruct in my mind how it looked when it was The Book Mart as I was chowing down on my fried frogs’ legs. It was great for me, but not so much for my dining companions, who would have to listen to me reminisce.

The restaurant recently moved to a new location, so as I write this the space is vacant, which makes me sad. It’s too much to hope for a bookstore, I guess, but I’m hoping some business moves in there soon. I want to go hang out there some more.

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