The Book Shopper

By MURRAY BROWNE

It’s always a pleasure to be reminded that reading is more than an academic exercise, or a consumerist indulgence.  Murray Browne, a proud middle-class eccentric, here fashions a modest and very casual book out of his simple love of literature.  And not just what’s in the books themselves but all the odd and wonderful consequences of living a life among books: the friendships nurtured, the joys of the bookhunt, the dilemmas of managing one’s library.  Browne’s no slouch when it comes to matters of taste.  His ideal store includes the many writers he celebrates: Pat Barker, Jim Harrison, Milan Kundera, and Annie Proulx, to name some. No idolater, he’s unafraid to point out deficiencies in novelists he admires, such as T. C. Boyle or Richard Ford.  And for all his midwestern humility, he enjoys his Proust and Pynchon.  Browne surrounds his critical opinions with essays and sidebars that chronicle his years of book love, first as a child who read more for quantity than quality, then as a regional newspaper reviewer who slogged through his share of dreck.  As someone who’s spent lots of time on both sides of the bookseller’s counter, I can confirm Browne’s astute observations about the trade, especially his credo: book people are not often people people.  In other essays, Browne makes peace with online bookstores, explains the difficulties of giving and receiving books as gifts, and offers a few suggestions on how to arrange for our libraries after death.  All in good humor, of course.  Browne’s critical populism never panders.  Think of him as an all-American reader truly in love with books.

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