A Scholar’s Bookshop
Caters to Local Literati
By Susie Davidson
Academics need not fear an encounter with the latest Danielle Steele or Hollywood tabloid fare when they walk into A Scholar's Bookshop at 8 Eliot St. The store, which opened in June, is owned by Howard Feldstein, who owns Boston’s Antiquarian Books at 2 Milk St. as well, and is a fixture in the local antiquarian book market.
The Bookshop is a veritable haven for the high-minded; shelves are filled with books on everything from ancient languages to French architecture, Greek and Roman studies, philosophy, history, economics, government, and sociology. Most are 20th century books, but they do deal in the antiquated as well; recently, they sold a 1608 Latin book of Tacitus to a customer. Occasionally, books are dated pre-1850, but they are the exceptions. Unusual offerings include a book on the invention of the toilet, a 1720 set of books from the London Spectator, and a set of fox-hunting books that belonged to a wealthy man who went down on the Titanic.
The proprietors saw the need for their type of tome. “We felt that the closure in recent years of all the major Harvard Square used book shops,” said store manager Andrew Jantz, “created a vacuum which we are hoping to fill.
“Our customers are mainly educated people, avid readers, and while many are from the college community, we also get a lot of locals,” he added.
Boston v. Cambridge? There is a difference. “It’s interesting to note what people are looking for in the Cambridge store, as compared to the Boston store,” Jantz said. “For example, Greek and Roman studies rarely sold in Boston, whereas in Cambridge it’s one of our most popular sections. Also, I think customers find our prices to be very reasonable. The great majority of our books are priced between four and fifteen dollars.”
Most of Feldstein’s buying involves estates or private libraries, often from college professors who are either retiring or downsizing personal collections, but he occasionally purchases books from walk-ins as well. “Howard is very plugged into the Harvard community,” said Jantz. “Some of the collections we bring in are astounding, including rare editions and signed books. For example, we recently bought Alfred North Whitehead’s library (he was teaching at Harvard toward the end of his life). His family kept most of his philosophy books, but he was an extremely well-read person with a lot of books on a lot of different subjects.”
While the store does not conduct searches per se, they do try to keep an eye out for books that may appeal to their regular customers. If someone is interested in books of letters written by women to other women, for example, a book coming in along those lines would be put aside for them.
Jantz, a graduate of The Catholic University of America with a B.A. in Political Science and Harvard’s Extension School with a graduate certificate in administration and management, is a local writer and ex-publishing executive. He also served as a petty officer/journalist in the Naval Reserve. “When I was in publishing,” he said, “the kind of job I had was very stressful because it was deadline-oriented, and I had a number of people reporting to me that I was responsible for. I often fantasized about working in a second-hand book shop.” He stressed that although he is not the owner, Feldstein grants him such autonomy that it feels that way. “What I’m doing now is essentially a dream come true,” he said.
Jantz has won Best Foreign Translation from the New England Poetry Club, and was selected as “Poet of the Month” by the Christian Science Monitor. He has published two books of verse, Eclipse: Poems of Depression and Recovery (1997), and A Question of God (1998). He is working on two new ones, The Upper Common, a poetry book, and an untitled book on philosophy which will “provide a layman's perspective of existentialism as a living philosophy and will cover everything from metaphysics to ethics to psychology to the nature of consciousness.”
A Scholar’s Bookshop is located at the corner of Winthrop and Eliot Streets in lower Harvard Square. For further information, please call 617-492-1500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.