Manchester by the Book

4 minute read

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!

The Dancer from Atlantis

A mesmerizing tale of adventure and romance: An anomaly of time transports a twentieth-century man backward through history toward the greatest catastrophe the world has ever known Looking out over the Pacific Ocean from the deck of a luxury cruise liner, American architect Duncan Reid is suddenly caught up in an inexplicable event—and when he awakens he is somewhere . . . different. Duncan has inadvertently fallen victim to a fatally malfunctioning time machine from the future, along with three equally startled companions from vastly different epochs and civilizations, and now he stands with them on the rocky Mediterranean coast of Egypt in the year 4000 BCE. With the aid of miraculous technology supplied by the dying time machine, the displaced four are able to communicate and share their stories, the most startling being the tale told by the one woman among them, the bewitching Erissa. Only decades removed from her actual time, she claims to be a priestess from Atlantis who views Duncan as a god, and she represents perhaps their only hope of returning to their rightful eras. But to do so will entail immersing themselves in the savage turmoil of an ancient world and placing themselves in harm’s way on the eve of the most terrible devastation in human history. A true giant of twentieth-century fantasy and science fiction, multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner Poul Anderson astounds once more with a powerful adventure through history and legend that set a towering standard for time travel fiction.

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.