Finding a place to relax in a new city isn’t easy. I uprooted myself from Los Angeles a little over a month ago to dive into the chaos of the Washington D.C. job market. However, the realities of adjusting to a new city and the stress of job searching made finding somewhere to escape a daunting task. Even as a person who does this over and over again, bouncing from coast to coast like a super powered rubber ball isn’t ever easy. It takes effort to go out the door and to be willing to poke my nose into things — even at the risk of things poking back.
A month after I’d finally settled into my new city, I was still drifting. Aimless and rootless, there wasn’t much to perk my interest as I shuffled my way around this strange landscape. Yet just when I’d reached the end of my tether, I found it.
Wandering around the Adams Morgan district, I stumbled across a bookshop. Literally. Caught up in gloomy thoughts, I didn’t notice the metal racks of books sitting out on the sidewalk. I plowed right into them, upsetting a few copies of something in another language and a few heavy art books that weren’t overly kind to my feet.
Flush with embarrassment I hurried to pick them up and noticed the brightly colored pieces of printer paper pasted to the racks with dirt-cheap prices. Pretty standard used bookshop fare, but call me a curious sucker if nothing else. Hoping that no one had noticed my earlier performance or half swallowed expletives, I slunk through the door and wandered into half-price paradise.
At Idle Time Books, all the effort of escaping disappeared. Shelves groaning under the weight of Dante, Milton, Mao and Russell Brand climbed up walls like creeper vines. A staircase with books resting on each step beckoned like a siren song up to a second level even more impressively stocked than the first. For a bibliophile starved of books, it was mouthwatering.
It took a herculean amount of will power to pace myself. I knew that this was a place to savor. Any casual browsing would be a dangerous disservice to the books I could feel waiting to be discovered. Pacing, it seemed, meant that I would walk out of the store with just a bagful of books.
On that first trip I browsed, I savored and most importantly I allowed myself to unwind. When I finally dragged myself to the cash register, I was still in a book-induced state of shock. I hauled a motley assortment of things like The Richard Burton Diaries, and a book about a young man’s reawakening journey to Israel intriguingly titled Ambivalence. The cashier tried to help by gently reminding me that I was supposed to pay for the books and that it might be better if I, you know, handed them to him. Not ready to move I just nodded like a marionette with cut strings and continued to gawp shamelessly.
After I burned through the books in less than a week, I went back. I assumed my initial impression of the store had been overly biased and a return visit wouldn’t be able to live up to the first experience, right? Another bagful and sheepish smile later, I was emptying my wallet out onto the counter and holding a bag bursting with copies of books by the Roman authors Josephus and Livy.
When I told my friend, a Washington D.C. native, about my find she just nodded sagely. Perhaps the only negative review I’ve heard was from an acquaintance I was having lunch with not two doors down from Idle Times. When I described the store he frowned and shrugged before he stopped himself. “Oh, right” he said a bit chagrined. “I forgot. Bibliophile.” He agreed that even an individual not as captivated by the written word as I am could see the attraction.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a slave to books. While I can sit through most movies dry eyed, give me my tattered copy of The Outsiders and I’m bawling like a baby. It only stands to reason that the first place I’d find comfort in an unfamiliar city would be a bookstore. That I found it at Idle Times only makes rating this store against all the others I’ve ever wandered into that much harder. The only comparison would be a bookstore I haunted while I was at boarding school in California and a mess of hormones and social anxieties. The circumstances were different, though, and now in Washington the stakes are that much higher. This is where I’ve come to live and try against all odds to make a life. I was floundering and no other place — bookstore or otherwise — could compete.
This place, with anything from a comic book Communist Manifesto to the latest on Middle Eastern conflicts, commands an absolutely effortless peace. This is where receipts are still written by hand, and signs warn people to relax and put away the phones. No one there chides you if you lose yourself in a quiet corner for a long afternoon. Escape invariably just happens. I challenge the passerby to step inside and not lose themselves among the stacks, spending hours running their fingertips over long lines of book spines, breathing in the scent of age and comfort.