My old University of Kentucky dorm, Haggin Hall, was demolished this spring. Now it’s just a hole in the ground. K-Lair, the nearby grill where I bought chicken sandwiches as a freshman, is gone, too. Twenty years on, the old alma mater is a lot different than it used to be. Such was the realization last month when I found myself in Lexington, Kentucky, one of the best places in the world.
Some things are better in Lexington, though, and one of those is my favorite bookstore, Black Swan Books. Recently featured on a New York Times blog, the Lexington landmark is not only going strong, but it’s far bigger than it was when I went to college.
Black Swan is on my short list of must-visits on any trip to Lexington. I can talk politics with Michael (not for the faint of heart), and invariably find more books than I can reasonably leave with. On this visit, after a welcoming hug from Michael’s wife Kim, Michael asked, “Do you owe me money?” (The answer was–and usually is–“yes,” but we shan’t dwell on that.)
I first strolled into Black Swan Books as an undergraduate, and I’ve been going back ever since. I worked there for awhile back in the ’90s, running the shop when Michael was out of town and sometimes going with Michael on big book hauls. I also put a lot of dust jacket covers on books. A lot.
As usual, Michael had just bought hundreds of “new” books, which crowded the walkways in tomato boxes. (I learned from Michael years ago that tomato boxes are perfect for storing and moving books. The cardboard is sturdy, they have handles and a lid, and are just the right size for heavy books. You can usually get them free. Alas, the books that go in them are not.)
Black Swan is stuffed with a high quality selection of first and limited fine press editions, reading copies, and leather bound books. Don’t miss the rare book room, where the envy inducing books are locked behind glass. Not to worry, Michael would be glad to sell some to you.
And if you like Wendell Berry, Michael stocks one of the best selections of his books in the country, particularly of signed and limited editions. Since Wendell Berry writes faster than I can read, there’s often a volume available that had slipped through the cracks. This trip was no different as I found a Larkspur Press edition I somehow missed. As usual, I didn’t leave Black Swan empty handed.
If you find yourself in Lexington don’t miss a visit to Black Swan Books. It’s pretty much guaranteed to have something you’ll want.