Yesterday I went to the Borders store at Madison Square Garden — the airiest bookstore in New York with its huge plate-glass windows — looking for books I’ve wanted to review. I struck out on two new editions of children’s classics: a Little Red Riding Hood illustrated Andrea Wisnewski and Ruth Krauss’s The Backward Day.
But with a bit of effort, I found an adult book at the top of my list: Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories (Random House, $22.95), a collection of personal essays by Nation columnist Katha Pollittt. (Memo to Borders: This does not belong in the “Politics and Government” section but near I Feel Bad About My Neck.) I dove into Pollitt’s essay on the birth of her daughter two decades ago and, in a section about child-rearing experts, found this irresistible passage on the author of Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age 5:
“Penelope Leach, the only famous woman expert, was a dragon, the infant-care equivalent of Margaret Thatcher or Barbara Woodhouse, who had that dog-training show on television (‘No bad dogs – only inexperienced owners!’), and you couldn’t dismiss her as just another man laying down the law. She was a mother herself; a better mother than you, because she never seemed to have a minute in which raising children was not the foremost on thing on her mind. She wrote that you had to talk to your baby when you were pushing the stroller and that not to do so was rude because if the baby was a grown-up you would make conversation. She wrote that if you had a job and the baby was happy you had still done the wrong thing, you had just gotten away with it. Penelope Leach had quite a bit of useful information, which she delivered in a brisk, friendly way, but that was just to cozy you along. Like the men, she obviously thought that if you ignored her advice you’d produce an addict or a killer or a C student – but if that was true the human race would never have survived all those millennia living in mud huts on a diet of lentils and goat milk.”
The Borders store at Madison Square Garden www.bordersstores.com is at 2 Penn Plaza. Among large New York bookstores, it is one of the most convenient for tourists, situated right next to Penn Station and a few minutes’ walk from the Port Authority bus terminal. Unlike most city bookstores of its size, it has a broad plaza in front with lots of places to sit and read (in addition to an in-store cafe).
The way this Borders shelves books can be a little odd. Pollitt is doing appearances all over the city, so why was Learning to Drive buried in the “Politics” section on the second floor? But the service was exceptional. When I couldn’t find the book on the main floor, a staff member directed me to the second floor, then called upstairs to a clerk, who was waiting for me with the book when I got there. I rarely comment on bookstores, but I haven’t had this kind of service at a bookstore of its size anywhere in the world.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.