Circling the Square

Aesthete's Delight

"If I can't sell the kind of books I like, I might just as well be in the grocery business," said Mr. G. C. Cairnie, a thin-haired gentleman who runs the atelier-type Grolier Book Shoppe on upper Plympton Street. Cairnie's tastes, a hasty inspection of the shelves revealed, range from Aeschylus to Zweig, not excluding Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, and Lewis Mumford. "Of course, I don't do a tremendous business," the attic entreprenur claimed, as he frightened off a young Radcliffe studen looking for a volume of Muzzey's "American History," slightly used, "but it's a living."

Cairnie started to live back in 1927, when, after studying Architectural Landscaping at the Harvard Graduate Schol for some years, he and a companion merged their private libraries and hung out a shingle. At first, profits barely reached the ham of a mythical piggy-bank. Then came the boom. Judge Woolsey, a man of taste, made his famous decision permitting James Joyce's "Ulysses" into the country, and the book-stalls began buzzing. Cambridge shops were hesitant about handling the controversial volume, and while they discussed the matter with the local Legion of Decency, Cairnie loaded his shelves with the choice work. The turnover was tremendous.

He realized a long time ago that more was being printed than could possibly be read, and although the establishment is a larder of the best in modern poetry, criticisms, and first editions, Cairnie reluctantly admitted he doesn't get much chance to read. "Spend most of my time reading about books," he said, indicating scattered copies of the London Times Literary Supplement, the Saturday Review of Literature and book sections of the New York Times and Herald Tribune. "Things are coming out so fast these days," he went on, "it takes me a week to read the reviewers, and just as I finish, I've got to start all over again."

But for all its books, the most distinctive feature of the Grolier Book Shoppe is its well-worn sofa. Apparently an ordinary piece of furniture, it has been warmed by the posteriors of the most erudite inmates of the ivy-covered squirrel-cage. This indeterminable-hued divan has sustained the weight of the wearer of the blackest, thickest-rimmed glasses among Cambridge cognoscenti. It has also supported innumerable bodies beneath as many heads holding rimless spectacles, prime among these being Cairnie himself. For sitting comfort, the Grolier ottoman is approached only by the bootblack stand at Felix's Shoe Shine Spa, and there the conversation hardly runs beyond static monosyllables in praise of one Williams, a baseball player from San Diego.

The Grolier Book Shoppe is open most of the time, excepting the few times a year Cairnie gets the yen for leisure and runs off to New Hampshire. To those who are interested, the management has extended the invitation to drop in for a quiet browse. Only don't ask for Muzzey's "American History." They ain't got it.