Manchester by the Book

It’s getting to be summer in New England. But it’s not officially summer in New England until you’ve been to Woodman’s of Essex for fried clams. Finding myself with a free Saturday last weekend, off I went. And it’s not a road trip unless you stop somewhere at a bookstore. After clams, I headed over to Manchester by the Book, in, well, Manchester by the Sea.

Manchester by the Sea is beautiful, quaint New England harbor town, if you’ve never been. It’s absolutely worth a weekend field trip to look around, get a nice meal, and shop for books.

the harbor at Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Book shares a bit of that quaint feel. It also feels like someone exploded a giant piñata filled with awesome books inside the store. Intriguing books are everywhere. On shelves, in piles, on couches, signed first editions behind glass.

Fiction shelves run the gamut from old classics you’ve forgotten about to modern treasures you’ve been waiting to read. I’m not in the market for children’s books, but that section looked very good for those looking for that. As you might imagine, in a harbor town there’s a vast nautical collection, including an entire shelf dedicated to Patrick O’Brian. In the ancient history section, books about the sexual culture of ancient Greece are nestled next to histories of Byzantium. My kind of store.

I snapped up a copy of Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, a literary spy novel, for $6 and the autobiography of the incomparable writer James Salter, Burning the Days. Right behind me on a display table, a piece of cover art shows a semi-naked woman apparently dancing with a bull. I just finished Mary Renault’s wonderful The King Must Die a month or two ago — it’s a retelling of the legend of Theseus, and Cretan Bull-Dancing figures prominently. I’m intrigued. This work is The Dancer from Atlantis, a time-travel novel by the famous science fiction and fantasy author Poul Anderson. And yes, Cretan bull dancing figures prominently. Synchronicity!

Lastly, I stumble on a very handsome edition of Omoo by Herman Melville, with wonderful wood block prints of some scenes. As you can guess, The Hawaii Project is interesting in the South Pacific, and Melville’s been on our list to get to. Slurp. I drop on a very comfortable couch and read for a few minutes, then decide I better leave before I do more damage. Here’s a shot of my haul:

Mark Stolle, the store owner, murmurs appreciatively at my selections. I think these books are his friends. We chat about the cover art, and the history of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, and the relation of the Dancer from Atlantis’s connection to Mary Renault’s books, which he knows but hasn’t yet read. In a reversal of roles, I seem to be the one selling books :).

I can’t imagine a better weekend trip that running up to Manchester by the Sea and dropping in on this store.

Mark was gracious enough to answer a few questions for this story.

Mark, tell us the history of Manchester by the Book?

I started Manchester By the Book 18 years and two days ago. I worked for Waterstone’s Books for a couple years before that and gathered the stock for my store in my basement.

Do you have some particular specialties the store is known for?

We don’t have any specialties, just general good books, any good book on any subject, the more the merrier.

Have you got any interesting events coming up people might want to know about?

We have lots of events, our next one is a Shakespeare reading, where people can come and read there favorite short bit from the Bard, or listen to others reading, they can find out about these things on our website or on our Facebook page.

Anything unique or peculiar about your store that people might enjoy?

I don’t know if there is anything unique about our store except that it is unique and peculiar.

We are eager to buy books, so if people want to contact us about that it would be great, seeing new books is my favorite thing.