A business that does good? ASTOUNDING!

Judson Books in Greenville

Judson Books in Greenville

I was in the Upstate last week for a swimming competition, and between events, my wife and I roamed the downtown looking to nosh. Instead, we found a lovely bookstore inside a regal stone building. It was like a temple – as all bookstores should be – and we had quite a time.

Wandering and flipping pages, I ended up in the back room of the store, a room filled with mostly empty journals and notebooks. A girl was stationed there, alone at a desk surveying the room, and I asked her what she did back here since she had no register.

“Ah, well,” she said, “most of our customers are at risk, and I help them if they need it.”


“Well, I help mostly homeless people use the Internet and email and, if they need it, I help direct them to any aid they need.” She smiled, and the sun coming through the window wrapped around her like a halo.

She was as perky, and I was impressed. It’s one thing to feel sentimental urges about the homeless and those in need, and to shout through a megaphone about what other people should do, but here was a for-profit business, selling real goods for real money, that hired someone specifically to help people who probably don’t pay a thing. It was almost like church, but even more so.

Letters inside boxes…

I went into the store with no plans to buy anything, but had to now, voting with my feet and dollars for what I wish more people and businesses did. I picked up a bright yellow book titled Thinking Inside The Box, by Adrienne Raphel. What drew me was the subtitle: Adventures with Crosswords. I scanned the first few pages, and they looked interesting enough, so I bought it.

It’s an odd little volume, and I wondered if the author was so drunk on crosswords that she spoke in hints and mysterious big words.

Truth be told, I was pretty taken by the first few chapters and with the history of the crossword. It’s fascinating that what started out as a newspaper filler became a craze that people still clamor for. From this foray into history, though, the author ventures in fits and starts into other arcana. Some are interesting and some are… arcana. My interest waned through the middle sections, and through to the end, and what’s a book but a beginning, middle, and end?

A book or a puzzle?

Inside Judson Books in Greenville

A sight I never tire of: books stacked for sale…

Most readers rate the book well, though there’s a cadre of puzzlers and readers who found it unreadable and horrible. The prose is good – the author is a poet and writer with a lot of letters behind her name and it shows. Sometimes, maybe, too much. This isn’t so much a long-form treatment of the history and doing of crosswords, which is what readers expect from the title. As much as it’s a history, it’s also an “Adventure with crosswords and the puzzling people who can’t live without them”. I think there’s a puzzle there, but I don’t see it. Maybe that’s the problem. This putative hidden puzzle irritates several reviewers.

This book isn’t only about doing crosswords. It’s about making crosswords, figures in the world of puzzles, and Will Shortz, editor of the NYT crossword, my personal nemesis.

There’s much to like here and the author boldly tromps down every rabbit trail. In retrospect, I’ve decided that I like the book, reading it in small chunks rather than as one long read. Kind of like breaking it into clues, downs and acrosses.


M. Judson Booksellers in Greenville. Do I have to say it? WORTH A TRIP!

The book at Amazon.
At Barnes and Noble.

As per normal encouragement, I hope you’ll find a local bookstore to buy this book, even if you have to order it. Your local store is run by your neighbors who will love to meet other bookish people who support local businesses and conversation and ideas. And who aren’t robots or virtual things…

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Note that I AM NOT an Amazon Affiliate member. If you venture to the Seattle Superstore to buy anything through my site, then Jeff Bezos tosses me what’s left of an old cigarette.  Same for any other store sans Bezos.