Monday’s Meditation: On Atlantis Books & How You Can Be A Bridge
On the island of Santorini, there is a famous bookstore called Atlantis Books. The fact that it’s the only one there lends it an air of importance, but I’m convinced it would still easily outshine any number of nearby others.
Atlantis Books is tiny, its shape recalling that of a Hogwarts dorm. The bookshelves are arranged in a kind of topsy-turvy manner, and seem to extend into the mural-painted domed ceiling. In fact, there are shelves, or segments of shelves, in every nook and cranny of the place. You might happen to accidentally turn your head a certain angle and catch sight of a whole stack you should have, for all intents and purposes, missed.
The store is a quiet, peaceful place, its visitors intuitively adopting the hushed tone of reverence that’s reserved for indie bookshops and libraries.
Above the soft murmurs, one man’s voice is clearly audible. He does not seem to project, yet his words fill the shop. It is clear from the first statement you overhear him make that he is remarkably intelligent, wickedly witty, and, most of all, impossibly well read. He is Craig, the American co-owner of Atlantis Books.
One can’t help but to dote on his piquant expressions. Fortunately, there are many; he has a ready answer for every customer’s inquiry. It soon becomes evident that he is not merely well-read in the general sense, but, rather, that he has firsthand knowledge of every single book in the shop (though based upon the sheer volume this seems an impossible feat).
I pick up what appears to be the smallest, most unassuming paperback, and, catching sight of me holding it he offers, “That book will change the way you view the world in terms of typography forever. This man–you know Gill Sans, the font? So he basically invented–”
His synopsis is so captivating I feel I already understand the essence of the book, and also that I must buy it and read it.
He does this for every book anyone asks about. He knows not only the content of the book, but the biography of the author, the relationship of the author and publisher, the historical context during which the writing, editing and publishing of the book came about, and so on.
What’s more: he isn’t putting it on. There is no showmanship or self-consciousness to his explanations. He does not seem to be trying overly hard to make a sale. He just knows his books.
He knows books the way a man who spends his every waking hour following the market knows stocks. The way Julia Child knew cooking, in the end, that’s how deeply familiar he is with books.
I realize that every book in the shop must have been intentionally chosen by him, hunted down and collected in all forms–new, rare and vintage, English, French, Greek, Spanish. He is in every title.
Craig’s passion and knowledge of books is infectious. It does not intimidate, but inspires. You want to be able to speak with such authority about one book. About one subject matter.
He asks, “What book would just blow your mind to find?” The answer given is a first edition T.S. Eliot. Without so much as pivoting his body, he extends an arm, and grasps an old book whose cover is in a plastic sleeve. He shows the spine. “First edition, T.S. Elliot.”
I am enchanted, and eventually have to be coaxed out of the store. But not before buying a stupidly heavy load of books.
The next day, our last day in Santorini, we decide we have to go back.
The shop is as marvelous, only, there is something missing. A crucial element. Where is the voice, decoding the contents of every book?
“Craig’s not in today,” the man talking to another couple says.
We buy some more books, and leave happily enough, but the second visit isn’t quite the same.
Craig had spoken for the books. His authentic obsession had acted like a magnet, naturally linking curiosity to information. He had been the bridge between person and story. Without him, the shop was quiet. The titles beckoned, but they did not grab hold of your attention and convince you why they mattered.
Craig was doing exceptionally well at what we’re all meant to, and capable of, doing which is to speak to something–to speak of something that lights us up. We are all given the opportunity to be the bridge between. What’s more: we need each other to hone our voices in order to help us identify the subtle entities we might otherwise overlook.
It isn’t that we can’t find what we need on our own, but that we rely on each other’s knowledge to help answer the question, “Why should I care?” And “Will it be worthwhile?”
Here’s one for you: What are you speaking for? What idea are you helping to bring forth into the world? What message are you enabling others to access? What gap are you bridging?
Be the glue for something magical. Be the matchmaker of idea to need. And don’t pursue being that chiefly by marketing or by sales, but through thorough knowledge of what you genuinely care about.
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