Charming but Serious Little Book Store in Jerusalem
2bitmonkey is back! There is so much I could write about a 10 day trip to Israel. Touring that country is unlike any in the world, and the excursions on my trip were beautiful, educational, spiritual – in a word, extraordinary. While I expect that readers don’t want to hear about my trip, there were two little “finds” that 2bitmonkey is too excited to not share. Today I will share the first of those finds.
Only a few blocks from my hotel, while walking to one of the main commercial streets in Jerusalem to pick up some dinner, I stumbled upon a wonderful little book store unlike any I’ve seen in the U.S. Hungry as I was, I couldn’t help but walk in to this shop, as even from the outside I could tell that the store was stocked ceiling to floor, wall to wall. Inside I scanned the four walls of books; the store – no larger than a Manhattan studio apartment – had just two aisles with bookshelves stocked on either side. This was the first thing that made this store unlike any other I’d seen before. The ratio of space in the store to number of titles was impossibly small. There was no wasted space whatsoever. No featured tables, no multiple copies of any title. Just row after row of books. It made the Strand look wasteful in its use of space by comparison.
The second feature that set it apart should be no surprise – about 1/3 of the books in store were in Hebrew. Though I’m sure they exist in New York City, I’ve never been in a multi-language book store. Each bookshelf featured a category of books (which I’ll get to momentarily) and within the category there were several shelves of Hebrew books nearer to the floor and then English books to the ceiling.
What really set this store apart though – not just from any U.S. store I’ve ever been to, but I imagine from other Israeli stores as well – was the high quality of the books it stocked. Consistent with the no-nonsense approach in the way the store was stocked, the books themselves were what you’d have to call serious reading. With a heavy leaning towards Judaism and Israel, the books were sorted into categories such as Archaeology, History, Jewish Studies, Linguistics, Gender Studies, and Physics, just to name a few. I found myself browsing the “lighter” subjects, Psychology / Sociology / Education and Philosophy & Classics.
After browsing for about 20 minutes I purchased “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman“. Though I’ve never seen it before it’s certainly possible that this book can be found in bookstores in the U.S., maybe even in a run-of-the-mill chain like Barnes & Noble. However, I’m certain that those stores wouldn’t lend themselves to the kind of meaningful browsing that I was able to accomplish in these 20 minutes, the kind that leads to picking up the short works of a Nobel-winning physicist (which, by the way, is a wonderful read so far).
Only after returning home did I find out that this little shop I stumbled upon was none other than Ludwig Mayer (Jerusalem) Ltd., the oldest book store in all of Jerusalem. It was founded in 1908, which is a full 40 years before Israel’s War of Independence. In a country filled with ancient landmark after ancient landmark, I miraculously found the city’s oldest book store, and it was a treasure like so many of the historic sites. The Mayer family no longer owns the shop – it sold the store after nearly 100 years of ownership – but it seems that nothing has changed.
Wandering through a country as old and rich in history as Israel is an experience that simply cannot be matched through any form of media or any activity that one can engage in at home. Naturally one feels that way most when visiting the Western Wall or Masada. But that same feeling can also be elicited by something as simple as a book store.