Obscure Textbooks Are Easy to Find

After suffering through the chaotic text stacks and creeping lines, the truth is that you might not find the book you need at the Coop.

Instead, many Harvard departments and individual professors have forged close, long-standing ties with a number of Harvard Square's many idiosyncratic specialty bookshops.

Literature, foreign language, music, East Asian specialties and other pockets of the curriculum find their texts at these stores, and instructors say convenience and long-term expertise keep them away from the low-rebated chicken house in the Square.

"I wouldn't even think of the Coop for foreign books," said Brad S. Epps, assistant professor of romance languages and head tutor for Spanish. He orders instead from local foreign-language bookstore Schoenhof's, a long-time Harvard institution.

The reason for this loyalty is simple, he said. Variety--Schoenhof's stocks books for more than 50 of Harvard's foreign language courses, from Spanish to Urdu--and specialized knowledge draw Epps and other professors to the store.


"They're competent," Epps said. "There's not going to be confusion about how things are spelled; they know the publishing houses; they can recommend books themselves. They're not just clerks."

The personal attention at these specialtystores can also pay off for non-academicconsumers. Yesterday Music Services, wherestudents in Literature and Arts B-55, "Opera:Perspectives on Music and Drama," go to get operascores, offers expert music-identificationservices for the classical ignoramus.

Workers at the store, so named because "if youneeded it yesterday, we'll do our best," can calla centuries-old tune just by a hapless consumer'svague humming.

"We recently had someone who wanted music for awedding by what he said was Techaikovsky," saidEsther Breslau, the store's founder and owner. Itturned out to be by a composer named Borodin.

Sasuga, a newly opened Japanese bookstore inPorter Square, sells books for Harvard's Japanesecourses and like Yesterday offers personalizedservice and inventory.

Karen Yahara, co-owner, said that aboutone-third of the store's customers are Americanstudents looking for the standard language andhistory texts. But a large portion of theirclientele seeks something with a little bit morecolor.

"We also get random people who seem to wanderin off the street. A lot of policemen are intomartial arts books. It's kind of scary," Kaharasaid.

A popular comic book option, Three X ThreeEyes, features a super-heroine who defiesvillains and nature when duty calls. "All of asudden her bangs part and she sprouts another eyein her forehead," Yahara said.

The book stores, besides competence andspecialty knowledge, can offer colorful anecdotesand histories that the K-Mart of textbooks cannot.

The Grolier Book Shop, on Plympton Street,sells books for Major British Writers, ModernAmerican Poetry, and several other Harvard Englishcourses. Its status as the only all-poetrybookstore in the U.S. has earned it write-ups inThe New York Times and other newspapers. "We'requite famous," said Louisa Solano, who owns theshop.

The store, which has hosted well-known poetsfrom Robert Lowell to Robert Bly, is also famedfor a somewhat mangy canine former resident,Pumpkin the dog. Pumpkin, a beagle-hound mix, wasonce featured in the Harvard Yearbook but is nowdeceased.

And Grolier keeps up the live poets clubtradition with visiting bards reading their worksand a free "Phone-a-Poem" service that letscallers hear a work read by its author.

Students applaud the alternative textbookoptions and seem not even to mind the extra traveltime.

Stina B. Carlstedt '97 said she found Schoenhofemployees knowledgeable when she went there to buybooks for her introductory Italian class.

"I was asking them if it was a good book, howfast it progressed--they knew the book," she said.Carlstedt also said that service at Schoenhof's isfaster than at the Coop, where the lines are"horrible.