Union Avenue Books and Literature in Knoxville, London and Paris

A reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, London 2011

I truly believe that a culture can be measured by its arts. A culture that highly values literature, painting, photography, sculpting and music of every kind is more highly evolved than one that does not. Am I a snob? Maybe. Readers of this blog know how much I love music and literature.

Any Amount of Books bookstore, London 2011

Henry Pordes Books, London 2011

So, I paid attention as we traveled to music and other arts, but this story begins last night at Tomato Head. While Urban Woman and I waited on our food a couple who had three children at their table asked the waitress about the Hotel Oliver. She fumbled the answer, so I turned and told them about the Oliver and some other hotels nearby. From New York, there was one other thing they wondered: “Do you have a good bookstore downtown?” I remembered Jack Neely’s reputed pain at being asked a similar question a few years ago and having to painfully say, “no.” Of course I was delighted to tell them about Union Avenue Books and they made plans to go there next.

Koenig Books, London, 2011

Lovejoy’s Book Shop, London, 2011

But Europe is so ahead of us culturally. They’ve probably moved into digital readers of various sorts and forgotten books, right? Not so fast, my techno-geek friends. In London bookstores were everywhere. One after another I took their picture until my camera finally rebelled. Most were small and blended used and new books. Does that sound familiar? It does to the patrons of our own little local book store.

Slightly Foxed Bookstore, London, 2011

Leeds Castle Library, England

The same was true in Paris, though I saw fewer total bookstores while there. Of course I’ve mentioned the crowds at Jim Morrison’s grave in Pere Lachaise. In addition to singing Doors songs they also quoted verse after verse of his poetry. The grave attracting the most intense attention after Jim’s was that of Oscar Wilde. Dead for just over 110 years, his art still moves the visitors. Many inscriptions were made on his tomb, including my favorite, “Dorian Gray made me love literature. Thank you for that.” Interestingly, young girls pay tribute by kissing the crypt and leaving their lip prints.

Oscar Wilde’s Grave, Pere Lachaise, Paris

Girl’s kiss Oscar Wilde’s grave, Paris, 2011

The most famous bookstore in Paris – and maybe the world along with City Lights Book Store in San Francisco – is Shakespeare and Company on the left bank. It was featured in one of the final shots in the recent Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris.” It is the second bookstore by that name. The first hosted literary greats of the Lost Generation such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, while the second (World War II closed the first) was a favored spot by Beat writers such as William Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg.

Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, Paris, 2011

On the flight home the man in front of me was reading The Catcher in the Rye. His wife alternated between a parenting book and a novel. A teenage boy across the aisle read Sartre in French and the teenage girl beside him read for the entire trip. I read A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. It was the first book purchased from Union Avenue Books. No pixels, just soft paper pages.

Union Avenue Books

Which brings us back home. I was so proud to tell the visiting family about Union Avenue Books. I believe it says something about us that we value the written word. I’m proud of what it says. How about you?

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