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Indie Bookstore Round-Up: Topos

January 16

by Ben Hillin

Introducing a new feature on the Seven Stories blog: an indie bookstore round-up, in which staff and other members of our community write a few words on their other favorite independent bookstores. This week, Ben Hillin writes about Topos, in Ridgewood, Queens.

Topos Bookstore Cafe: 788 Woodward Ave, Ridgewood, Queens (Forest Ave M or Myrtle/Wycoff L)

by Ben Hillin

Some native New Yorkers don’t even know where Ridgewood is. “I’m not in Bushwick anymore? I’m in Queens now?” they ask, vexedly. Walking along Woodward ave you’ll find bodegas, Coptic churches, exposed brick homes of all colors, and longstanding dive bars. Right after you pass under the elevated M train tracks, you’ll see a small red chalk sign with a Cheshire cat staring back at you. You’ve now found Topos, an independent bookstore and cafe.

It opened back in early 2015, started by a trio of veteran bookstore owners (Benjamin Friedman, Cosmo Bjorkenheim, Anny Oberlink). What sets Topos apart is its warm, inviting location, and impeccably curated list of used books, with some new books sprinkled in here and there. You can find all the classics you could ever want (Faulkner, Proust, Woolf, Tolstoy, etc.), and an ever expanding list of contemporary Black and feminist writers.

Nearly every topic or genre imaginable is housed on Topos’s shelves. They even have a larger-than-you-would-expect selection of French language titles (who doesn’t want to read Proust or Derrida or Zola en français?) I personally get lost in its impressive philosophy selection, usually filled to the brim with titles by Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Deleuze, Ranciere—and even harder to find philosophers such as Paul Virilio and Paolo Virno (conveniently shelved next to each other.)

One could spend hours among the shelves. The space is warm, lit with yellow iridescent bulbs, and paneled with lightly stained wood. The space feels human and comfortable; it asks you to stay longer than you planned. There are no overwhelming stacks of books, piled to the ceiling, clogging up the narrow pathways (a problem I’ve encountered in used bookstores from here to Denver). No terrifyingly sleek and minimalist decor that seems to be the trend in hipster/young “creative” spots in and around Bushwick and Williamsburg. The owners have done an impeccable job of creating an environment that leaves patrons wanting to sit down, sip some coffee, and read all day.

No matter the time of day, you’ll find the owners and baristas talking to regulars or new customers about Diderot, Paris, film, art. No topic is out of place or off limits. One of the first times I visited Topos, I purchased Matter and Memory by the French philosopher Henri Bergson; one of the co-founders and I struck up a conversation about the concept of memory, and the funny coincidence that Bergson married Marcel Proust’s cousin, Louise Neuberger. The staff members are knowledgeable, helpful, and seem to care a lot about the written word, though they are also known to host special events, like screenings of David Lynch films.

Topos captures something few local bookstores do: a friendly space that encourages book-reading. It’s something you can’t replicate in a larger bookstore, or online in your living room. And, if you’re anything like me, a trip to the bookstore means you walk away carrying six more books than you intended to buy.

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