An Ode to Books & Books
From the start, the name filled our consciousness like so many thrumming tom-toms: Books & Books, Books & Books, Books & Books. For many of us, our lives can be charted by the 25 years we’ve had this remarkable bookstore. My son — just months younger than Books & Books — grew up there, both of us sitting cross-legged on the floor of the children’s room with Miss Nelson (who went missing), George and Martha (having tons of fun) and Bill and Pete (who went down the Nile) not to mention grinches, witches, wild things, giant peaches and big friendly beasts.
All too soon, the grinches gave way to epic journeys, existential quests and unreliable narrators. We were in the “adult room” and following Odysseus, Captain Ahab, Holden Caulfield, John Dowell and Nick Carraway. In sequence, Books & Books opened on Lincoln Road, built its incredible new Coral Gables store and expanded in Bal Harbour. I’d venture to say that the Coral Gables Books & Books, with its elegant rooms and open-air courtyard, is arguably one of the handsomest bookstores to be found anywhere.
None of this would have been possible, of course, without the astounding Mitchell Kaplan. He would call himself a bookseller, plain and simple. But in an era of too few heroes, he is one. He is an idealist, an intellectual, a patron, a public thinker. Without him, we would not have the Miami Book Fair International. We would still be a distant outpost on the literary circuit, not be a must-stop for authors. With independent bookstores under siege from large chains, Kaplan has been a valiant crusader for the homegrown, for the local. And despite the national odds, he’s survived a quarter century with his own very local bookstore. There isn’t an author in Miami (or near Miami) who doesn’t worship him. And he’s family. He’s watched our children grow up; we’ve watched his. His very presence and his passion has made Books & Books a place where we discuss politics, philosophy, poetry, literature, history, music, art, architecture. It has been at the core of Miami’s intellectual and cultural growth.
Now, the very kids who came of age on Books & Books are the ones sitting cross-legged on the floor with their own toddlers, who will be the third generation to learn to love literature and architecture at Books & Books where our history and culture have been safeguarded so carefully for a quarter of a century now. First and foremost, bookstores are about books, but they are also about the structures that house them, and the cities that make them possible. Books and buildings are two key ways we pass on culture from one generation to another, and we should cherish the fact that in Miami, at this very special bookstore, the two come together.
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