Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mike McGonigal

The shop had already been around a year or so when I discovered it. Being fifteen at the time, two years seemed an eternity. So to me, the store held institution-like status right from its start.

Miami in the 1980s had quite a few expertly-curated shops run by these gentle iconoclasts—Mike Dean with Yardbird Records in the Grove and M.
Leslie Wimmer with Open Books & Records in Miami Beach spring to mind alongside Mitchell. I won't say I took Books & Books for granted at the time, as my trek there by bicycle was thirteen miles round trip; I just looked it up on Google maps so you know it's true. And then of course we must all remember how culturally harsh and divisive the Reagan/ Bush era was; Books & Books always felt like an island of sanity to me. The poetry section alone was so strong that I labored to find anything comparable, even after moving to Brooklyn or Seattle.

The location was so gorgeous and the staff smart and helpful—even to a full-of-himself suburban teen who wrote really bad poetry (that would be me). I received my first real encouragement as a writer at the open mic readings Mitchell himself used to run. And at least once a month, I spent my allowance on these amazing things, books from Grove Press, New Directions and Black Sparrow. These weren't in any library I had access to as a high school student. I had no other way of discovering these books than to find them in Books & Books. In college, I adopted the store's own slogan, that Borges quote, as my own whenever anyone commented on the perilous stacks around my bed: "Dude, I cannot sleep unless I'm surrounded by books!"

I'm so glad that Books & Books has been around for twenty-five years, and hope it continues to thrive for at least another twenty-five! I know that sounds trite, but it's true.

Mike McGonigal
Writer/ Editor, YETI Publications
Portland, Oregon

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