January 8, 2009
The Seminary Co-Op
Man, all of my old haunts in Hyde Park are now famous. The Los Angeles Times writes up Barack Obama’s favorite bookstore:
“Just a few days before the election, Barack was in here with his daughters,” Cella recalls in a soft voice. He smiles. “I suppose I should say, ‘the president-elect,’ right? People around here are just so excited.
“There was a crew from ‘Good Morning America’ in here the other day,” he adds. Journalists have been stopping by regularly to get a sense of the place that feeds Obama’s intellectual hunger.
What makes the Co-op appealing to discerning customers such as the Obama family is the atmosphere and eclectic yet also wide-ranging selection of books. Credit for those virtues, many say, belongs to Cella, who has run the place since 1968. The Co-op is like a theme park for the mind: Walking through it, each twist and turn is likely to reveal a new intellectual thrill. You might come across a book you didn’t know existed — but whose theme instantly intrigues you — or a book for which you’ve been searching all your life. The store is an adventure in itself, a series of forking, book-lined paths that wind around through room after room after room, and each subsequent area brims with amazing volumes. There is the philosophy room, the religion room, the history room, the language room — and on and on it goes, an enchanted forest of multicolored spines and preoccupied customers.
The Co-Op does bring the goods. I love David Derbes’s rat-a-tat catalogue of treasures:
“Want the ‘Oxford Classical Text of Tacitus’? ‘Annals’? The standard Freud in German? The Steinsaltz Talmud? A Hittite dictionary? Five volumes of Michael Spivak’s ‘Differential Geometry’? George F. Kennan’s memoirs? Carl Sandburg’s life of Lincoln? Sara Paretsky’s essays? They’re all on the shelves of the Seminary Co-op.”
Rachel Leow bookporned the Co-Op in March. You have to see her pictures for the close attention she pays to the (ahem) unique architecture of the shop. And I want Good Morning America to ask some hard questions about the strength of the Southeast Asia section!