It was at the desperate end of my final semester at the University of Akron when I discovered Last Exit Books.
Located at 124 E. Main Street #1, Last Exit Books and Coffeehouse, back when I first entered its door, was a small, quaint used bookstore that had that particular smell bookstores and libraries have. A smell of leather and dust and wisdom.
What welcomed me when I walked through that door was a treasure. Hardbound, affordable books by authors I love, admire, and learn from – with DUSTJACKETS!
My arms were loaded with titles ranging from Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost and The Gospel According to the Son, an Ernest Hemingway first edition of The Garden of Eden, there was a book of poems by Bukowski, and other titles I can’t remember. I think there was Augusten Burrough’s memoir, Dry. In fact, I think that was my introduction to his work. That first visit cemented, in my mind, a vow… a certain marital faithfulness to this little bookshop of whenever I am in Kent, OH, I will walk through the door, buy some books, and chat up the owner. And, for the life of me, I can never remember the wonderful man’s name.
What is important is that I remember him, he remembers me, and I always go back. No matter what shape my life has been in, no matter how little or how much money I have, I make sure I go to Last Exit Books. I have been to hundreds of bookstores. Some good. Some were so terrible and dirty and unorganized that it made me want to pull my own eyeballs out of my skull, and my mind felt like it was going to implode with all the lashes and zaps of knowledge of where and how the shelves should be arranged. A bookshelf – a certain shelf – to me, is like a canvas in which an artist has to take their hand and place the right line – the right title – in a certain spot, the next title following by subject, or year published, or where that title fits into a specific author’s list of accomplishments.
What impressed me the most about Last Exit was the inventory of titles, the “at home” vibe of the place, and, whenever I’m there, it feels like I am the only one in the store.
Over the years, the store has tripled in size. There is a coffee shop as you walk into the store. The coffee shop alone is the size of what the original store used to be. Yet, there is still that good feeling I have inside me of the store and me having our privacy. I’m very proud the store has grown. I’m happy it – an independent bookstore – is still up and running and expanding. Fifteen years (maybe more) my boots find their way back, walking through the aisles, eyes wide open and searching for the next treasure. And those wonderful first editions, hardbacks, and trade paperback wonders ARE treasures.