An Oddly Modern Antiquarian Bookshop

In an intriguing article for the New York Times, Jody Rosen discusses a fascinating but little-known bookstore called Monkey’s Paw, and gives ideas on how such businesses fit into today’s literary world. Here is an extract:

“Life-Spark Stories for the Intelligent Young.” Attributed to the author “R. K.,” it tells the story of a “bright little Life-Spark living in the heart of the great Lord-King of the Sun,” who comes down to earth and embarks on a series of adventures. The Life-Spark meets Mother Earth, Nurse Destiny and other deities; it changes form, inhabiting various plants and animals — a pansy, a dog named Gipsie, a little boy.

The Monkey’s Paw specializes in oddities like “Life-Spark Stories”: printed matter that has fallen between history’s cracks and eluded even Google Books’ all-seeing eye. There are Victorian etiquette handbooks, antique sex manuals, obscure scientific treatises. There are forgotten 19th-century travelogues with sumptuous chromolithographs and leather-bound correspondence courses on fingerprinting.

“This isn’t the store where you’ll find the book you were looking for,” Fowler says. “It’s the store where you’ll find the book you didn’t know you were looking for.”

You could also say that the Monkey’s Paw is an idea masquerading as a bookshop. It’s a cross between a retail establishment and a conceptual art installation, which upends traditional book-trade values and views the literary canon through a cracked lens. It’s a bookstore that argues that bookstores are, by definition, Dickensian old curiosity shops. “Most booksellers can’t adjust to the postprint era,” Fowler says. “The only way to sell books in the 21st-century is as artifacts. I’m a 20th-century person myself, but with Monkey’s Paw, I’ve tried to adapt. This place is a church of print. It’s just that the old rules are a bit scrambled.”

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