Dark corners have always been places of self-discovery for me. In no other place does intellect and beauty mesh more eloquently than a bookstore. I love independent bookstores (the chains are great too). There’s always a great selection of local authors, interesting interior design and a proper infusion of new and used books.
I have fond memories of discovering my first gay magazine at the indie establishment. XY magazine during the late 90′s was targeted at gay youth. The mag not only had interesting articles, but funny comic strips and even a little poetry. I took the magazine to the bookstore’s uninhabited frontier, the gardening section.
There in a riveting sea of books about dirt, soil and tulips, I had an epiphany. Through the power of written words, I realized I wasn’t the only gay boy in this big bad world. It soothed my soul like wine on a warm Spanish afternoon.
The gay magazine sensation still caught my interest. However, as an out gay man in New York City, I wanted to keep cultured beyond magazines. I went to the theatre, museums and was very exposed to the cultural quilt of the city’s five boroughs. One of my favorite activities was to check out the Strand Bookstore.
The King Kong of independent bookstores, the Strand advertises itself as 18 miles of books. Any time, I entered the multi-leveled shop it felt more like a small city. Books were substituting for buildings and it had a dense population.
The Strand has always fulfilled my curiosity of the world. Through its travel section, I learned about Brazil and China, the two countries I most want to visit. I also re-visited the many museums, sidewalks and history of my favorite cities already checked off my travel list.
While satisfying my wanderlust, I also wanted a feast for my eyes. The Strand’s wide selection of art books expanded my world of knowledge. The graffiti art of Keith Haring, surrealism of Salvador Dali and the eccentricities of Julian Schnabel paintings were not only pleasurable for the eyes, but taught me about eclectic art genres.
I shifted through the Gucci and Versace’s of fashion books, read proper old English literature from Charles Dickens to Jane Austin in the classics section and discovered Sylvia Plath’s dark side via poetry. Having a moveable feast with Ernest Hemingway also meant I met Gertrude Stein through her very poetic words.
I also found a smorgasbord of gay literature at the Strand. A true testament to being out and proud meant no more hiding in the gardening section. I read my gay books out for everyone to see. Dark corners were as antique as the first edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.
Leaving the Strand always had the sensation of a very cultured holiday. There was plenty of art, sights and high culture to fill the brain with pleasant memories.
The cozy smells and sounds of page turning make reading into a very simple but lovely life experience. No need for a symphony orchestra when I have a world of words to provide escapism.