Loome says that he "is on a mission to serve the Church." But, as he takes great pains to explain, that doesn't mean they carry just Bibles and hymnals. There are sections on art, law, music, Latin, and Greek, and one of the best philosophy sections I have seen. (It's worth noting, too, the absence of an "Inspirational" section.) Even a staunch atheist could leave the store with a crate of books. "If I were some redneck Catholic, I wouldn't carry a tenth of the books I do," says Loome.
"A bad book is just information," he continues later. "It's a dead end. A good book will lead you to more books, and they will lead you to others." He explains this while expounding on Platonism, and the way the store embodies this philosophy. "Information is easy. From information, we gather opinions, and they can be either true or not. The store is here to provide people a way to rise above those opinions to knowledge, and, from there, to wisdom, which is much better than knowledge. There are two ways to think about wisdom. Wisdom, you could say, is another name for God. Or, wisdom is when you know things that are eternal, or always true."
One of the ideas that Loome holds to be always true is the sanctity of human life-- "WITHOUT EXCEPTION," he says loudly, repeating the phrase a few times for good measure. And should you fail to infer what he is talking about, he states that he is "unapologetically pro-life and anti-death-penalty." At a medieval conference in Minneapolis a few years ago, Loome recalls, he saw Noam Chomsky speak. During the question-and-answer session, a student asked Chomsky what he thought of the abortion question. According to Loome, Chomsky replied, "'I am afraid that people in the future will look back on us and say that we lived in an age of barbarism.'"
Loome revels in this story, and I think it's because he sees himself--a pro-life, Catholic intellectual--as a marginalized figure. Surprised that anyone was interested in writing a story about him and his store, Loome insists that he's "more countercultural than anything the City Pages can come up with."
Loome's countercultural enterprise is to preserve books from the second millennium for the third one. And in an age when print material as utilitarian as the newspaper is said to be flirting with obsolescence, the very notion of theological books can seem downright medieval. Yet the volumes in the Loome, with the exception of the Bible, will probably never exist electronically. Nor will there ever be a full computer inventory of such collected knowledge. There are too many titles, and too few readers, and practically no money in it, and the transfer process would take too long to ever attempt. And so for a small, self-select group, the physical presence of the Loome remains a necessity.
Say, for example, you are a Medieval Literature professor from Vienna. After throwing a few million euros at a new computer-science center, your university decides to beef up its theology holdings with a thousand-odd volumes. You may venture a flight to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where someone from Loome Theological Booksellers will pick you up, drive you to Stillwater, and deposit you at the nearby Lowell Inn, where they have thoughtfully arranged for your lodging. If you request, they will set up Internet access for you in the back of the store, and will invite you to wander the shelves all night, by yourself, after close, trusting you'll shut off the lights and lock the door behind you.
Although my own more modest purchases have yet to win me this treatment, on a recent visit I decided to pretend I was just such a professor, conducting a brief walk-through to survey the breadth of the collection.
The first title I come upon is that Summa Theologica I so lustily sniffed when I first walked into the store. It never ceases to amaze me that some books are bound in the skin of animals--in this case, cow. The cover is red leather, with marble boards and a ridged, curved spine. Inscription: "Edward Fitzgerald, Prize for argumentation at the Grand Seminary, May 19, 1915." This is volumen primum, the first of six volumes, published by Forzani et Sodalis, officinatores librarii, Romae. One-sixth of God's total net wisdom costs a mere $150.
In addition to the rather large Chesterton collection, the Loome also boasts a sizable stock of books by French Roman Catholic poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc. Rather by dumb luck, I pull the first American edition of his book on poet John Milton. This, too, is bound in red boards, ex libris Father M. McMahon, South Dakota, published by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1935. The book is in excellent condition and is priced at $25.
Yet another red hardcover, this one in rough shape, which I find on the floor in the Hymnology section is The Elements of Plainsong, Compiled From a Series of Lectures Delivered Before the Members of the Plainsong & Mediæval Music Society. Published in 1895 by Bernard Quatrich. $20. I show this volume to Loome, who explains that he bought it in England, because "you can't really find any books on Plainsong in the U.S." If you didn't know already, the introduction states that "Plainsong or Cantus planus--even, level, plain song--is perfectly distinct from cantus figuratus, or mensuratus, i.e. harmonised, measured music....No well-informed musician, in comparing the two systems, can therefore claim that the one is merely a barbarous and undeveloped form of the other, and unworthy of attention. Except on antiquarian grounds." How true that is!