Ever been to an anarchist book store? No? Well, read on!
I’ve added some photos to my Flickr gallery taken on a trip to the Wooden Shoe Books, the “all volunteer anarchist collective” book store located in the heart of Center City Philadelphia at their new location directly on South Street.
You can view the photos here:
Wooden Shoe Books website:
In regards to this blog entry about the book store itself and why I visited there, well that’s a story that goes back a little more than a decade to around the early 2000’s when I was in my early 30’s. Having just met my wife (girlfriend at the time), I was sick and tired of working for “The Man” and equally if not more dissatisfied and frustrated with what I wanted to do with my life, creatively speaking. I was just beginning my quest for more knowledge and awareness when I started delving into various schools of thought such as Nihilism and Anarchism. I don’t remember how it all happened, but one thing led to another and I ended up finding out about Wooden Shoe Books at that time, as well as another anarchist spot called A Space, also located in Philadelphia.
I’ll never forget the first time I stepped foot into “The Shoe”, as the staff calls it when they politely welcome you upon your arrival to their establishment. It was a mix of awe inspiring and culture shock. Having been raised Roman Catholic and living in the suburbs for most of my life (until I moved into the city of Philadelphia during the early 90’s), I lived a pretty sheltered life as far as any kind of alternative information and knowledge were concerned. For the first 30 years of my life, prior to the advent of the internet, all I knew was what was in the paper, on TV, in song lyrics, and whatever my parents and catholic school teachers shoved down my throat labeled as “The Truth”. It was pretty much the same for everyone that grew up in the suburbs during the 70’s and 80’s, and probably any period in history where people were not exposed to anything beyond the status quo.
I don’t remember every detail about my first trip to The Shoe in the early 2000’s, but I remember falling in love with the Zines and the plethora of alternative and often radical books that you just wouldn’t find in a book store or library in the ‘burbs (Walden Books, anyone?). I made 2 purchases that day: one being a Zine, though I cannot remember the title, and the other being a book about the Native American people’s involvement with the U.S. government and FBI. I don’t recall that title either, and I never did finish that book because I know all too well how THAT story ends.
I don’t recall my 2nd trip very much. I believe it was a few years prior to this recent trip and it was with my wife. I believe we were visiting the city for one particular reason or another and happened to stop into The Shoe after so many years just for nostalgic purposes. It might have even been related to my acoustic neuroma follow up appointments. But whatever the case may be, I didn’t purchase anything, and the visit was less than memorable on behalf of my part, since it was more about reminiscing than it was acquiring anything new to read.
Fast forward to this latest visit in October 2017, and I had a renewed purpose and perspective, with the former being to purchase a variety of Zines and unique books to showcase and discuss in a YouTube video, and the latter being the fact that I have gained a lot more knowledge and understanding about anarchism, not to mention my also renewed enthusiasm for all things philosophy. They say that everything old is new again, and there is definitely something to be said about that. I personally feel it’s a combination of nostalgia in wanting to revisit the things that we fell in love with at first sight or bring us fond memories and feelings, as well as having grown in experience and gaining new perspective so that when revisiting something from our past, there is a fresh new set of eyes and understanding about it.
And so it is that I took the trip to The Shoe. They’ve moved from an old location which was located off of South Street near 9th or 12th street, to their new location directly on South Street around 7th or 8th streets. The store seems a little bigger in terms of length, and perhaps a bit wider as well. There is a ton of literature, from flyers and periodicals to books and novels. That’s what they are known for: zines and alternative books and periodicals that 99% of the time you most likely will not find in Barnes & Nobles. They have a section near the front door where you can find out about local events occurring in the area such as musical performances by local bands. They also carry other items such as buttons, stickers, posters and t-shirts.
But the shop is primarily all about the zines and alternative and often radical literature. They do however hold in-shop events such as readings and lectures by guest authors and other notable individuals.
Don’t know what a Zine is?
A zine is a self-published magazine created by an individual or individuals that is not mass produced and often not delivered through a distributor. It’s pretty much DIY. You’ll find anything from political Zines on various topics such as feminism, queer and anarchism, to the more artistic types such as poetry and graphic novels. As I mentioned above, I went to The Shoe specifically to grab a variety of Zines so that not only could I read them, but more importantly showcase them in an upcoming video on my channel in order to give viewers an idea of what The Shoe and an anarchist book shop is all about. It’s great to know that people are still making zines and that the art form is not dead. I also love seeing independent artists able to do what they love and get their art out there.
As for the books themselves, they are just as varied as the zines. You’ll find almost any kind of alternative and radical piece of literature on subjects such as anarchism, atheism, Native Americans, feminism and even childrens’ books about sex and poop.
So if you are looking to find out what anarchism and alternative press is all about, want to expand your intellectual horizons, or just want to step outside your comfort zone and into a place you never even knew existed, try to visit Wooden Shoe Books if you can or find an anarchist book shop near you. The experience alone is well worth it.