The tale of the Moravian Book Shop isn’t straight-forward. Founded in 1745, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it’s said to be the oldest continuously-running bookstore in America, yet it’s largely under the radar. It’s not a grande dame to whom homage must be paid; it’s never been the epicenter for new literary movements; nor was it a champion for free speech under British rule. Instead, the Moravian Book Shop, established by the Moravian Church and today managed by Barnes and Noble, exists in a nexus of past and present, public and private, communal and corporate. In this way, it defies definition — a nebulosity that speaks volumes about bookstores themselves.
The novel is most successful where it allows itself to stray from historical fact and plot — to invent and to play with language, to give itself imaginative time and space. Nesbit is brilliant in those moments, and captures a paradox of historical writing — that it’s in the invention and improvisation that the past feels most pressing and most real.
Greenery is an education in looking at, and loving, nature. As Dee moves through the world, and the fact of his illness gradually stalks up on him, birds make the strange familiar, the foreign homely. Seeing birds emerge at dusk in a valley in Chad, “the space that lived globally a minute ago became intimate”; Dee’s guide there, Pier Paolo, was “a domesticator of the harshest places”; in his company “the desert was made homely”. Later, buntings warm themselves on the “black barrows” of neolithic tumuli, “making homely the accommodation for the long dead”.
He wrote the things decades back
He did them underwater
He pulled them out like sonic fish,
Dada hake, Bauhaus trout, Schwitters skate,