Fellow Greater St. Louis area dwellers: the next time you have an hour or two of free time Monday-Saturday between 11 am and 5 pm, check out the Second Reading Book Shop in downtown Alton -- owned and managed by author, poet, and lifelong literature enthusiast John J. Dunphy.
In a way, stepping into the building at 16 E. Broadway feels like going back in time; you're instantly surrounded by shelves and shelves of old books, many of which are dogeared, creased, and yellowed from decades of loving readership. Before you even pick up your first book and part the covers, you're already wondering about the story behind the physical book itself. How many people have read this exact book -- this hunk of wood, chopped and pulped for the benefit of your readerly devotion? What parts of the country has it seen? What parts of the world? Did the person who owned this before read passages on the toilet? If so, did they wash their hands? With soap? And why does the book open automatically to page 67? Is that where the first sex scene begins?
As for John . . . He's a character, alright. He's the kind of authentic individual that once you've met, you'll never forget. I'll let this interview by a guy from Hail Mary Publishing, an indie press based in St. Louis, speak for itself.
What's your flavor? Stephen King? Check. Saul Bellow? Check. Mark Twain? Definite check. Arthur C. Clarke? Super check. Ernest Hemingway? Unfortunately, not a check at the moment. But I'm guessing it won't be long before another book swap, shipment, or donation comes in that fills the gap.
Maybe you'll go in with a few authors or titles in mind, but browsing the shelves can lead you in a new direction. At the Second Reading, you never can tell what you'll leave with. Last Wednesday, for example I brought home Dark Nebulae, John's recent collection of haibun printed by Sam's Dot Publishing, and a three-novel hardbound volume of Gustave Flaubert, including Madame Bovary.
The vital experience of chewing the fat with a real hometown guy, standing on your tiptoes to grab that one book you've been meaning to read, and blowing the dust off an old paperback to find the wealth of knowledge inside is one that Amazon and Half.com -- despite their convenience and unthinkable wealth of selections -- will never top.
I beg of you, dear readers: support this local business. You'll be doing yourself a huge favor.