Whenever I land in a new country, one of the first places I go is the bookstore. These often turn out to be little more than glorified stationary shops, but it’s still always interesting to see what kinds of printed matter the local market can bear. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find obscure titles and maps and bits of research that aren’t available anywhere else.
So not long ago, when I was in Trinidad doing some research, I headed up the Western Main Road in St. James, then turned toward the Long Circular Mall, near which I stumbled into The Reader’s Bookshop. The interior was warm and the selection of books showed they were chosen by someone who truly knew what they were doing: A fine section of Caribbean authors, as well as lots of international titles you might not expect to find in Trinidad, or many places for that matter, like The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, The Accordionist’s Son by Bernardo Atxaga, and Kockroach by Tyler Knox.
I meant to stop in, then move on. But the owner was a young guy named Chris Mendes, and we started talking about books by Joshua Ferris and Zadie Smith, and I stood around paging through Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget and a Best American Magazine Writing Anthology and other books while he waited on customers. I ended up staying for hours. A few days later I came back and spent the better part of the day talking books, drinking beer and hanging out.
Leaving Trinidad, I realized that this colored my whole impression of the country, not just because of the map Chris gave me, and all the help with my research. But because as long as The Reader’s Bookshop is there, I know there will be a kind of haven, an island within and island, and a place where that will always feel a little like a home far away from home.
[Footnote: Sadly, of 2013 the Reader’s Bookshop is closed. Chris Mendes, meanwhile, is currently working on his first book.]