"Sometimes the books were arranged under signs, but sometimes they were just anywhere and everywhere. After I understood people better, I realized that this incredible disorder was one of the things that they loved about Pembroke Books. They did not come there just to buy a book, plunk down some cash and scram. They hung around. They called it browsing, but it was more like excavation or mining. I was surprised they didn't come in with shovels. They dug for treasures with bare hands, up to their armpits sometimes, and when they hauled some literary nugget from a mound of dross, they were much happier than if they had just walked in and bought it. In that way, shopping at Pembroke was like reading: you never knew what you might encounter on the next page -- the next shelf, stack, or box --and that was part of the pleasure of it."
I just finished reading "Firmin," from which this passage was taken.
I first heard about the book thanks to the Lit-Blog Co-op (you can read what they have to say about it here.) I read a couple of the posts about the book and went on to other things. It was only a few weeks ago, when I saw the book at Barnes & Noble in the staff recommendations with a 10% discount sticker on it that I thought: well this might be worth a try.
The book is the story of a rat, Firmin, born in the basement of a used book store in Boston's Scollay Square. The square is only a short time from being bulldozed and covered in concrete. In the short time he has, Firmin discovers books and writes his own in his head (he can't speak or write, so this is the only way he can do it.) He desperately wants to reach out to humans, he wants to communicate. His efforts to cross that gap make up the majority of the book.
The story is all about the love of books and how it can both make one feel more in touch with the world while, at the same time, increasing one's alienation.
I knew I would love the book when I got to the paragraph above. It reflects some of my same feelings about used books stores. (I imagine it's a pretty common feeling among book lovers.)
This was Sam Savage's first novel. He's got to be in his late 40s, at least, which makes me selfishly happy. You can hear an interview with Savage from The Bat Segundo Show. He sounds like an interesting man. You can also check out his Web site, The Old Rat, which includes some poetry and other writings.