Bob Willig’s Troubadour Books is a plain brown building that sits behind a dirt parking lot, mixed in with houses, tobacco barns, and farmland, while Rt 5 passes by, heading up the Connecticut River Valley toward Vermont. This part of the river runs through the Pioneer Valley, an archipelago of small and medium-sized towns with enough used and new bookstores that any honest New Yorker ought to admit that the Strand is long past its prime and make the three-hour drive north.
The colleges help the used bookstores, I think. As do the professors, who retire — putting some of their books back into circulation — or die — putting in all thirty boxes at once. These are the Scooby-Dooschools we’re talking about: Smith, Mt. Holyoke, UMass, Amherst, and Hampshire.
So I really could have written about any of several bookstores in a number of towns. I used to take a Saturday and drive to as many as I could manage, from Bernardston Books near the Vermont border to Sage Books in Southhampton. Over to Bookends in Florence or stopping by Gabriel, Metropolitan, Raven, Half-Moon, or the Old Book Shop in Northampton on my way to Amherst Books and nearby Valley Books. And just across the line from Hatfield into Whately, the Whately Antiquarian Bookshop occupies an old brick schoolhouse. A little farther up, in the shadow of Sugarloaf, Meetinghouse Books has taken over a 19th century chapel.
Another ten minutes and you reach the Montague Book Mill, a former gristmill overlooking the Sawmill River, where this summer my wife and I were married.