The Beauty of Books
By Karen Parr-Moody

GasLamp is one of the last bastions that sells that wondrous invention, the book. And with just a bit of meandering, one can find such bound treasures easily. Recently, I was thrilled to locate a beautifully illustrated "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" by Edgar Allan Poe there (photo at right). The next week, I came across the charming Victorian novel "Love's Bitterest Cup" by Mrs. Southworth. Not one week later I found the New York Junior League cookbook "I'll Taste Manhattan." Each was in a different booth, and each was a gem in its own fashion.

But the motherlode of all gems is GasLamp Books, the store within a store located behind the showcase area and operated by Bob Hill (photo, below left). Among its 10,000 books one can discover such topics as automobiles, railroads, aviation, World War I, horses, law, artists, furniture, glassware, pottery, porcelain, cooking and more.

Hill's bookstore, also called Booth B-128,  has been at GasLamp since the beginning; about four years ago, he expanded and started selling vinyl records. He has been selling books, in one way or another, for almost 30 years, and says that, as with other collectors, it's hard to say where being a collector stops and being a dealer starts.

"In some ways I'm just a book hoarder who developed the store to let go of a certain amount of books to stay sane," he says.

While many people -- including founder and CEO Jeff Bezos -- say that books are a dead technology due to the internet and downloadable books, Hill disagrees.  

"The internet has changed the world in a lot of ways," he says. "But I don't think books are really an endangered technology. People like to think they are; they've got their Kindles. And online's a great place to buy titles, if you know exactly what you want. But it's a terrible place to browse. People don't come in to GasLamp Books looking for a specific book. They come in to look at books and then they find something."

Furthermore, Hill stocks a lot of books where the physicality of the book is important. We're not talking popular novels here. His collection leans toward photography books and books about antiques and collectibles. "I know it's the best collection in Nashville on decorative arts and antiques," Hill notes. These are books where the pictures matter or might be carriers of the past, Hill says, joking that these are "your grandmother's best sellers."

Hill keeps the majority of his books out on the shelves, with a small amount in glass cases in a booth adjacent to the larger bookstore. The latter is so housed because it tends to be delicate material that can't stand regular handling. He works to keep the shelves labeled for ease of browsing.  "It's always a work in progress," he says of his system.

The GasLamp Books cookbook section is incredibly expansive, and is broken down into multiple subcategories. One is a grouping of Junior League cookbooks, which Hill says some people used to collect like stamps.

Hill explains: "It wasn't so much for the recipes, but, 'Oh, Pao Alto, I don't have that one! Tuscon, I have that one, but I don't have Sante Fe.'"

Hill also likes to include local church and PTA spiral cookbooks. "If it's a Nashville thing, I'll pick it up and put it in there," he says.

Regarding the genre of vinyl records, Hill says he feels many people have shed vinyl they once collected in lieu of CDs. But they are now regretting it and trying to reverse the process.

"That's been interesting to see," he says. "It's been gratifiying to see that it's a lot of younger people buying stuff. It isn't just people being nostalgic. It's people discovering there was some good stuff back then."

And there's more "good stuff" today, despite the internet, Hill says. Because he's a staunch believer in the physical book, Hill notes firmly, "It's a world that can't move totally online."  


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