I felt guilty because I hadn’t done more to support the place.
Since high school in the 1960s, the store had been one of my favorite spots, even though — except for a couple of short periods — I never lived anywhere close to it.
When I was of college age, I would hang out in the two rooms in the back of the converted old house. That was where they had the books on philosophy, psychology, history and current events. Having only modest means, I had to make tough frugal choices, so I tended to linger there for a while, pondering.
I would usually walk out with books of modern philosophy I would never plow through, poetry by Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, the psychological musings of Alan Watts and R.D. Laing, and fiction by Hermann Hesse and Robert Coover.
I may have been projecting my own feelings onto the place, but to me it had a kind of alternative vibe, like an underground record store or a shop that sold psychedelic posters (and, uh, related materials).
But I’m sure it really wasn’t as revolutionary as I thought. Beside the Sartre and Sontag, you could find Aristotle and Plato. Along with the Kerouac and Ferlinghetti, there was Eliot and Yeats. For every Pinter and Beckett, there was a corresponding Shakespeare or Shaw.
And given the store’s location, I’m sure it was a regular occurrence for some well-off Uptowner to drop by seeking the latest Jacqueline Susann or something similar. But those transactions took place up front, where the grown-ups congregated. I was just some working-class-kid-turned-earnest-college-student hanging out back by the deep stuff.
Later, my visits to the store became less frequent. There were the demands of jobs and family, not to mention spending the past decade trying to get out from under the post-Katrina mess. Getting there required an extra effort, one that was so easy to just blow off.
The book business is a quirky one, and I don’t pretend to understand it. I just know that it changed over my lifetime.
When I was a teenager, there was a Doubleday bookstore on Canal Street. At the time, it was managed by George DeVille, who later opened his own store in the Central Business District. In the years to come, other national book chains opened in New Orleans: Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, B. Dalton, Borders, Waldenbooks and even Brentano’s. Most have shut down, and even some of the chains themselves are defunct.
Meanwhile, other small, independently owned bookstores like Maple Street’s keep holding on.
My last trip there was for an odd reason. Several months ago, the store’s owners sold off some memorabilia. Online, I made an offer for what looked like a blackboard surrounded by a carved wooden frame with the store’s name on it. I thought it would make an interesting wall decoration.
When I went to the store to pick it up, I was surprised to find out it actually was two-sided and built on a heavy metal frame. It took me a lot of work to get it up the steps of my house, where I put it in a closet — just temporarily, of course.
I began to feel buyer’s remorse, thinking I’d spent money on something I might not ever be able to use. But now the buyer’s remorse is gone, and the only regret I feel is that I hadn’t made it to the store more often.
Dennis Persica’s email address is email@example.com.