Last week I paid a visit to one of my favorite bookstores, Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas. Its stock is arrayed in a Dutch barn-style house built in the 1920s; the fiction, poetry, and criticism sections are nestled in the old front porch. I love this bookstore and its owner, Warren Farha, whom I first met at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe seven or eight years ago. (Warren has been described by a mutual friend as one part saint, one part Lebanese merchant—which means, be careful, or you will walk out of his store having purchased seven $90 volumes of patristic theology.)
Eighth Day has the two characteristics of a great bookstore: I get lost (literally, not metaphorically) in the store itself, and it includes—among its vast holdings—a bookcase of books about books. If the bookstore has a specialty, it is "the 'lasting' books," says Warren, "perennially important books." As the Eighth Day mail-order catalogue and website proclaim: "We hope there is a coherence within this eccentric community of books, an organizing principle of selection: if a book—be it literary, scientific, historical, or theological—sheds light on ultimate questions in an excellent way, then it's a worthy candidate for inclusion."
I spent six hours and over $400 the first time I visited the store, last fall. On this visit, I had less time (and, alas, less money), but I still came home with, among others, John Hollander's volume American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, which (a) makes me wish I had been alive in the 1920s and (b) includes some of William Cole's "uncoupled couplets," in which Cole rhymes a famous line from a poem with a new line—as in "Gather ye Rosebuds while ye may, / but take your little pill each day." Hollander's illuminating introduction explores how the authors he gathered played with modernism while still being very much of it. Also in my stack: Marilyn Nelson's crown of sonnets, A Wreath for Emmett Till; and a book too long missing from my biblical reference shelf, Walter Bruggemann's Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes, which is one of those reference books you want to read straight through, and which I can already tell will routinely be open when I'm working on a sermon. Grazie mille, Eighth Day Books.
Lauren Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School.
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