Monday, October 10, 2016

Bookstore Tourism - Politics & Prose

I had the pleasure of paying my first visit to the main location of Politics & Prose bookshop in Washington, DC. last Friday evening. Opened in 1984, P&P is one of the most iconic bookstores in the Washington DC area, and indeed in the entire country.  One of my favorite food/cooking television personalities, Alton Brown, was on tour promoting his new cookbook Alton Brown Everyday, and made a stop in DC to have a chat and sign copies of the book.  As it was my first time at P&P, I knew I wanted some time to have a browse and get something to eat in the downstairs cafe.  The event started at 7:00pm and I arrived around 3:30pm.

View of the main entrance from Connecticut Ave.
The white rectangle is a sign promoting the author events that night. 
The bookstore is in a strip-mall, on busy Connecticut Ave NW, and all of the businesses share a small car lot in the back.  I was able to find a parking spot right away, but parking was tight and I can imagine that, at certain times of the day, it could be very frustrating to get in and out.  Many of my fellow bookshoppers said that they use Uber to get to P&P, and I can completely understand why.  The closest subway station is a 20 minute walk away, while there are plentiful bus stops within a few blocks.

From the parking lot, you enter directly into the cafe, called The Den, where I immediately ordered a coffee drink.  The weather was, for me, ideal book shopping conditions - chilly and rainy with overcast skies.  On days like this, I love nothing more than a hot beverage and endless stacks of books!  In addition to the cafe, the bottom floor is also home to the Children's Books area, a large selection of occasion cards, and remaindered books.  There were plenty of seats available, and a long table where a children's literacy group was holding a meeting.

Remaindered Cookbook Corner
Upstairs is the main book shopping area, with lots of new releases, reprints, and even an Opus print-on-demand device where readers can request printed copies of in-print and out-of-print books, via archival scans. The layout of the bookshop is very open and organized. It was easy, and very enjoyable, to browse about for hours.  And I did just that.

The week of September 25 - October 1, 2016 was Banned Books Week, and P&P was certainly participating in it.  You can read more about Banned Books Week here.  There was a large, beautiful window display about censorship and celebrating the freedom to read diversely.  Inside the store, there was a thoughtful display of books that have traditionally/historically/continually been challenged or banned.


In conjunction with Banned Books Week, the DC Public Library System held a week-long series of events called #Uncensored.  As part of this, the library system put special covers over hundreds of copies of the six the most-often challenged books across the USA.  Copies of those books were hidden all around DC in spots like libraries and partner businesses, as an urban scavenger hunt.  When you "find" one of these books in the wild, it's yours to keep for free!

I found a copy of Alice Walker's The Color Purple with "SMUT" printed on the extra cover.
Here is another book, just waiting for someone to come across it!
The Alton Brown event was a big draw, and the bookshop was PACKED with people!  I had gone downstairs to get some dinner in the cafe (root vegetable salad and mushroom soup - yum!), and by the time I came back upstairs around 6:00 there were already a lot of people seated and waiting.  Alton Brown was great - very enthusiastic and personable, full of stories and anecdotes from his past work on the food TV shows Good Eats, Iron Chef America, Feasting on Asphalt, and Cutthroat Kitchen.

After his presentation was over, Alton was willing to sign books or other ephemera the people brought.  I saw one woman, a few rows in front of me, with a ceramic turkey pepper shaker.  He was also taking pictures with everyone, so it was a very long evening, It was worth it, though!  I had a wonderful time and can't wait to visit Politics & Prose again!

Librorum annis