Barnes and Noble, in Memoriam


A few days ago my son Dylan came to give me the sad news: Barnes and Noble had closed.  Forever.  Not the whole chain of stores, thank goodness and not yet, but the one where we had spent many afternoons after school, sometimes staying till closing time: our hangout, the store on Tremont road in Columbus, Ohio, midway between my house and the high school.  The tradition of going to Barnes and Noble began early, certainly by age seven or eight, when Dylan still lived Mexico.  We would visit the big store in Tribeca, where Dylan got to know one of the store managers.  He always recognized Dylan when he came to New York, and he saw him grow from a little boy to a young man.

The routine was always the same.  I would find a few books and would go to the cafe to read and work.  Dylan would disappear into the stacks to collect a shopping basket of books, sometimes two, that he found interesting.  When he was quite young, I would be called to carry the baskets, now quite heavy, to the cafe.  Dylan would then sort through the books, reading a bit from each, narrowing down his choices.  I would be asked to make my independent evaluation.  Then came the hard part: deciding what to buy.  “Dad, how many books can I get today.” Me: “two, maybe three.” Eventually the choice would be made.

This process, called “editing,” was occasionally carried out on the floor of the store, where it was much easier to sort the books into categories and make a choice.  And also much easier to get into trouble.

We visited B&N wherever we traveled or lived: New York, Columbus Ohio, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Miami, are the cities I remember.

This year, the year of our beloved store’s demise, is Dylan’s gap year.  We are spending it in Paris, where we have discovered an excellent bookstore, Librairie Gaglignani, at 234 rue de Rivoli.  No editing there, as we were politely told, but the selection of books is superb, and we have taken many prize finds home, much to Nicole’s dismay: how will we transport our new library back to the US?

We carry the habits established at Barnes and Noble wherever we go.  On our father-son bonding trip in August, we visited bookstores in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, and Helsinki, finding small treasures in each, and lugging them back to Paris.  Of course, we haven’t read all these books, though Dylan is doing much better than am I.  But we have stored riches for the future.  And if another pandemic forces us to stay at home, we are immunized from that most dreaded of diseases: boredom.

A List of Science Books

Today when my son Dylan and I were out walking, he asked if I would write down a list of serious but popular science books.  So here goes.  I have most of them at various points in my life — high school, university, sometimes much later.

  1. George Gamow, One, Two, Three, Infinity.  This is a classic, written by a great physicist, known for his work on the Big Bang as well as other things.  I read this book in high school.  It had a great influence on me.
  2. Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law. See this review by Frank Wilczek.
  3. Richard Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter.
  4. Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes. This books talks about what happened during the first three minutes after the big bang.
  5. George Johnson, The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments. Of course there are more than ten, but this is a very good selection.
  6. A. Douglas Stone, Einstein and the Quantum.
  7. Adam Hart-Davis, Le Chat de Schrödinger: 50 éxperiences qui ont revolutionné la physique.
  8. Chad Orzel, How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog. The title may seem bizarre, but Orzel’s literary device of using his dog actually works, and his explanations are both clear and beautiful