26 September

Meet Bruce, The Gentle Book Man, “The Old Book Surfer”Up The Road

by Jon Katz

Maria and I looked around our living room and shook our heads together.

The room was overwhelmed with books, stacks of them covered every table. There was no place to put a glace of water or a cellphone down, and we hadn’t seen the tabletops in years

I told Maria I felt like we were like animal hoarders; the books were overwhelming us.

We decided to do something. But we weren’t sure what.

Then we remembered the used book shop up the road, just past the Amish farm. It’s strange to say it, but we’d never been there and he never seemed to be there. It was once a furniture store and was sold to someone who put a “Used Books” sign out front and was never seen again.

He was only open on weekends, and we just assumed he was running an online book sales business, which he is.

We saw a car there once in a while on weekends, but we just never seemed to have the opportunity to go inside.

This was unusual in our small town; we are all in the habit of welcoming neighbors and letting them know we were around to help. We had more than 100 hardcover and paperback books stacked in the back of the car looking for a home.

We didn’t want to take them to the dump, and the library wasn’t taking books during the pandemic. Maria and I are both voracious readers, we have a big pile of books waiting to be read.

We decided to take a chance on the used book store. When we came in, the first thing I saw was a stand with some dog books – five or six of mine- staring me in the face. Then I shouted out “hello,” and in a few minutes, the owner, Bruce, came down to say hello.

When I told him my name, he smiled. “I know who you are. I’ve read your books, and I have a Jon Katz display upfront, “the one I had just seen. He said he’d welcome our books. “A good writer is sure to have good books,” he said, graciously.

I was astonished by the bookstore. There had to be half a million used hardcover books and paperbacks. Every famous writer in the world was represented there, and there were thousands of CDs for sale.

The store’s owner was named Bruce, and he moved in quietly six years ago.  He calls himself “The Old Book Surfer,” and he isn’t kidding.

I told him we were neighbors, and he smiled. He has an apartment above the book shop and a house somewhere else. I’m quite familiar with people with a dream rolling into our town.

A retiree, Brice turned his life over to books. I liked Bruce right away. He is quiet, shy, and gentle mean, clearly a profound lover of books.

The country is fascinating to me in this way. Fierce individualists and dreamers often make their way here (I can speak from experience), it’s inexpensive to live here, beautiful, and people mind their own business (unlike people on social media.) and are otherwise friendly.

People here still want to have callings, not just jobs.

The Amish are moving here for the same reasons.

But there is a downside. There are few people and little money. Rural America has been hallowed out, Wendell Berry calls it our “deserted country.” All the money is on the coasts.

It is easy to like Bruce. He is soft-spoken and clearly, a dreamer. I’m eager to get his story. Oddballs often have a tough time making a living here, but they seem to get bye, as George Forss did.

Once in a while, I meet someone who is impressed that I was a book writer, or who has read all of my books. I can’t say it doesn’t feel good, and I liked seeing my books in their antique case in the front of the store. On book tours, I always wanted to see my books on a rack at the front of the store, and sometimes I did.

And here was a Jon Katz display at the front of a book store a stone’s throw from the farm, and I never even knew it. My bad.

Life is almost always a struggle because these people have foregone a life of money for a life of the heart. “If I’d want to make money,” George used to tell me,”I would never have become a  photographer.

They never get rich, these rolling stones, but they never quite go broke either.

Bruce didn’t complain, but he acknowledged that he was working hard to “keep it all together.” That’s how it is when people are living a dream and not just working in a job. It is rarely easy. I was shocked by the number of books and CDs Bruce had amassed. I can’t imagine how many he sells in that sprawling place way out in the country. I guess he sells primarily online, as a lot of used booksellers do know.

He says his Internet has been broken for a while; he is hoping the repairman comes this time; he was supposed to come yesterday. I told him he’s free to use my computer if he needs to. Between him and the Amish, we might soon have to get a coffee machine.

Bruce’s story is called the Old Book Surfer; he sells new and used books in every imaginable subject area and recorded music on vinyl and CD. His number is 518 229 0562, and his website and e-mail and website are oldbooksurfer.com.

I suspect there are few books published in the last few decades that Bruce doesn’t have a copy of.

Bruce is one of a kind and is worth a visit and a trip if you love books and music. He is one of us.

His street address is 2823 State Route 22, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. If you come to visit, drive down the road a quarter of a mile and visit the Amish Food And Vegetable stand and take home some pies, donuts, squash, or cookies.

I see our neighborhood gets more interesting all the time, even if I’m the last one to notice it. I didn’t know I had Amish neighbors either until Moise and his wife Barbara walked down the road to introduce themselves.

I am really happy we found such a good place for our books (they are donations, Bruce can’t pay for them right now.)

I am eager to go back to the store, talk to him one Sunday afternoon, and write about him. I love to write about the exciting people I come across in my town, and when I listened to Bruce, I had to think of  George, another eccentric who fled to the country to follow his heart and life.

. I told him that I was about to invite him into my life as he had asked me into his. “Like it or not, you are joining the Bedlam Farm lexicon of fascinating and fulfilled people.”

Bruce blushed when I took his picture and said this was a club he was happy to join. He was also pleased to have his photo taken.

I know a good story when I sniff one and Bruce is one. I’ll get it.


  1. WOW!! What an interesting looking store…sure wish we were closer!! I’ll be sure to check him out online!
    Thanks for sharing his story and look forward to more writings on him!!

  2. Wish I had a Bruce in my area. I came from Denver to White Mnt area of NH. In Denver tons of used book stores and thrifts that take used books. I have a ton and no where to give them. I guess thrift isn’t a thing here, Id have to drive a good ways to find somewhere. But I may have to as I can’t bare to throw out books. And sorry, Im not putting stuff by the side of the road to be rained on and make a mess. What a find, Ill be browsing his site, because just because I have some I don’t want doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty I do! I bet the Amish kids would love it in there… Miss your pictures of them, such an interesting life.

  3. I make a sincere attempt to give my business to independent booksellers and boycott Amazon. I try to be mindful with all my purchases. The next time you’re shopping online, or brick and mortar, ask yourself what businesses need my money more than chain stores and Amazon. There’s an array of selections.

  4. Today, I donated books and jigsaw puzzles to our local senior center. So many seniors don’t have money to buy books or puzzles. I think senior centers are vital to the mental, physical and emotional health of seniors. To throw away a book is something I can’t do. And I would probably get myself into “deep” financial trouble if I ever get a chance to visit Bill’s bookstore.

  5. wow, a gold mine a stone’s throw away. Have already checked out his offerings online. The #1 place I miss of NYC is the Strand Bookstore.

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