A Breath of Air at Book Trader

Design by Sara Offer

Book Trader Cafe is the only place at Yale where I don’t feel the need to constantly be doing something. Instead, I feel a visceral slowing of time. I relish it. With a cup of dark-roast coffee and a seat overlooking Chapel Street, I abandon my model of robotic efficiency for one of caffeine-driven indulgence. 

I’ve been drawn to Book Trader since I first came to Yale in August 2021. I’ve always felt at home in a coffee shop. I love the benign chaos of the morning rush and the ceaseless chatter of unfamiliar voices. I instinctively trust any establishment with the smell of espresso. I worked at Starbucks in high school, and I quickly identified Book Trader as a friendly neighborhood alternative to Starbucks’ corporate feel. But to me, it’s more than just a cozy midday caffeine stop.

Book Trader shatters all my habits of super speed. In a single day at Yale, I ricochet between classes, extracurriculars, student productions, office hours, part-time jobs, plans with friends, and forms of basic self-care. My mentality on campus is always more, more, more, but this comes at a cost. As I ache to soak up Yale’s massive mosaic of programming, I often elect to pursue efficiency above all else, even when it stands opposed to my pursuit of joy. 

 I watch recorded lectures at 1.75x speed; I allot only one hour to any lunch plans; I cram in speaker events and art exhibitions simply because they’re there. White space on the Google Calendar doesn’t signify that it’s time to relax. It signifies that by some miracle, there’s still time left in the day to be filled: by doing laundry, getting ahead on readings, attending a new club meeting, or watching a documentary on 21st-century prison reform. 

It’s the second week of the semester, and my Google Calendar looks like a Level 27 Tetris board. I love the saturation and intensity that life at Yale offers. After a stagnant winter break, returning to campus is revitalizing. Adopting Book Trader as my campus spot, though, has offered me an essential reminder of the careful noticing and uninhibited delight that comes along with slowing down. 

Book Trader offers a fresh perspective on my efficiency-joy dichotomy. The store is chronically understaffed. Getting a drink takes a ridiculously long time. (I’ll name my bias as a former barista.) The wifi is spotty, and oftentimes, I have to take an extra few minutes to connect to my hotspot before launching into work. There’s always a line for the bathroom, and there’s rarely any toilet paper. There are never enough outlets for customers that need to charge their laptops. Nevertheless, I go nearly every day. I greet Eoin and Meg with an eager smile, and they have my medium-iced-coffee-with-room order memorized. 

At Book Trader, I allow myself to people-watch, eavesdrop, pore over the newspaper, and chat with the baristas while I wait for my drink. I put my frenzied pursuit of everything away for just a moment, for a coffee I could have just as easily picked up from the dining hall. Spending time at Book Trader has become a little act of subversion against the tidal wave of Yale life. Something about the space—the eternal awkward first date at the front table, the old man bent over his laptop by the right window, the granules of sugar spilled by the napkins—creates an oasis where my goal isn’t to finish as quickly as possible, but to experience the things around you.

Leave a Reply