July 4, 2018


A Critic Sells Books Down by the Seashore (Dwight Garner, June 28, 2018, NY Times)

WIGTOWN, Scotland -- Isak Dinesen had a farm in Africa. Recently, if only for a day, I had a bookstore in Scotland.

It wasn't easy to get to Wigtown, in the remote Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland, in time for my shift. Though the village is only a two-hour drive from Glasgow, a GPS sent me through 33 miles of the desolately beautiful Galloway Forest Park on a single-track road that rattled the nerves.

The nerve rattling was compounded because I was driving on the "wrong" side of the road and with a stick shift installed on my left rather than my right. This felt like trying to use a mortar and pestle with my good arm tied behind my back. While in oncoming traffic.

Ian Butler, the proprietor of the Open Book for a week earlier in June, opening the store for business.CreditAndrew Testa for The New York Times
It is worth getting to Wigtown, population 1,000, however. It is lush and green and smells of the nearby sea. It is Scotland's national book town, its Hay-on-Wye. With a dozen used bookstores tucked into its small downtown, it is a literary traveler's Elysium.

Best of all, Wigtown offers a literary experience unlike any other I'm aware of. In town there is a good used bookstore called the Open Book, with an apartment up above, that's rentable by the week. Once you move in, the shop is yours to run as you see fit.

I was handed the keys and a cash box. I was told I could reshelve and redecorate. I could invite Elena Ferrante and Thomas Pynchon to speak, and Sly Stone to play, if I could find them.

The Open Book is run by a nonprofit group. It has touched a chord with so many people, from every continent, that it's booked through 2021, which is as far as Airbnb will take reservations.

It's a glimpse of the future, where what used to be jobs are now experiences you enjoy on vacation.
Posted by at July 4, 2018 5:51 AM