Thursday, May 9, 2013

Meeting Ben McFall at the Strand

Briana Whiteside meets Benjamin McFall, the "oracle" book clerk at the Strand Book Store

“Where’s Ben?” asked Briana Whiteside, one of my students and fellow travelers, as we walked into the Strand Book Store. Most of the hundreds of people who enter the renown store everyday go in looking for books. We were looking for books, but more importantly, we were on a mission to introduce ourselves to the store’s prominent book clerk named Benjamin McFall.

When Briana asked her question, a clerk near the front overheard and responded, “just keep going this direction," he said pointing toward the back, "you’ll see Ben back there.”

Months ago, I read an article in The Times about McFall, who will have been working at the store for 35 years in August. The article mentions that  McFall "is the dean of the clerks and the institutional memory of the fiction section, where he sorts, prices and shelves hundreds of books a day." I shared the piece about McFall with Briana and a few of my other student-travelers and informed them that one of our main goals for our trip to New York City would be to meet him.

When Briana and I approached, McFall was, not surprisingly, assisting people with book selections. After he finished, he turned to us, smiled, nodded, and said, “Hello. May I help you?" Soon, he was talking books, as some of our other travelers came over. We listened attentively and took notes on books that he mentioned. Really good used bookstores are harder to come by these days, and so the occasion of meeting "the oracle of the Strand Book Store," as McFall was described in the article, represented an especially rare, important moment for us.  

NYC 2013

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