You could argue that Aeon Books, located in New York City’s Chinatown, provides the source material for wellness-minded lifestyle brands like Goop. Whereas Instagram has turned alternative medicines and mysticism into aesthetic concerns, Aeon Books locates an intellectual core. On a recent evening perusing the store, I stumbled on a collection of essays by Oscar Ichazo — the progenitor of the Enneagram system of personality profiling, a personal favorite.
29-year-old Josiah Wolfson opened Aeon Books last year. The son of the scholar Elliot Wolfson – whose work deals primarily with mysticism — Wolfson has a bookseller’s spirit. “My dad is an academic and I grew up with books all over the place,” he says. He found the store via a stroke of luck. After moving to Los Angeles with his band, Regal Degal, Wolfson made his way back to New York, working at various bookstores before branching out onto his own.
The inside of Aeon Books feels like the kind of meeting place for new age healing. A vibrant smattering of orange and greens, the store’s interior — a former basement level Chinese restaurant — invites you to lounge as much as hunt for gems. The selection ranges from rare out of print titles to esoteric academic books. On a recent visit, the book The Serpent and the Rainbow caught my eye. The book chronicles a Harvard professor’s encounters with zombies in Haiti.
Wolfson says he’s noticed an audience for left field literature for some time. “The fact that it’s popular now isn’t surprising. The world is so fucked up and weird right now that whatever we’ve got going on obviously doesn’t work and people are trying to find different channels,” he explains. “People are aware that the things they were fed as kids — both figuratively and literally — like food and ideas that they were fed as kids aren’t the way things have to be. Drugs are more mainstream now, it’s all part of it I think.”
In that way, Aeon Books feels decidedly on-trend, yet without any of the baggage of chasing social media. “I think being different is helpful. It’s not that I’m necessarily intentional in being different, it’s just how I am,” Wolfson says. “I think being different and also being real is pretty helpful. No matter what, people appreciate real experiences. That’ll never change.”
He says he tries to keep prices low and keep the stock interesting. When I meet him, he’s preparing a set of books he recently came upon. There’s a palpable passion for the craft of preservation, and of the care taken in curation. “It’s kind of this reverse filtering process. If I’ve seen something too many times, I don’t consider it.” Wolfson says. “Unless it’s something I know is really good. I try to look for things I’ve never seen before.”
Wolfson says his hope for the store is that a mix of customers finds the store exciting. “There are two sides: some people come in here, and even if they’re into it they sort of cant process it. It overwhelms them,” he explains. “And then there are people who spend hours here.”
Wolfson points out his favorite phenomenon. “When someone who isn’t super interested in mystical stuff or doesn’t microdose or whatever comes in and finds something that appeals to them. I love that moment.”
Aeon doesn’t carry your typical fare, but it’s not so esoteric as to isolate casual shoppers.
“I used to love stuff like Hemmingway, or Don DeLillo. And, like, those authors appeal to people,” he explains. “I would be psyched if someone came in and saw some Don DeLillo and maybe they weren’t down for all of the mysticism or whatever but were just looking for something to read.”
He explains how since its mostly used books, he doesn’t usually have a lot of newer fiction. “I also don’t really pay that much attention to what goes on in the literary world,” he says.
Notably, Aeon Books spotlights African and African-American fiction. “A big part of the store is focusing on books from underrepresented groups,” Wolfson says. “There’s a deep well of history on academic writing on African and pre-colonial history that isn’t as well known as I think it should be. It could be really useful for people now.”
Wolfson admits that he isn’t as “tenacious” as some other booksellers, who scour the internet for rare titles. He mainly gets his books from walking around, discovering overlooked gems on doorsteps and stoops.
“A lot of what I do is on my feet. Just walking around looking. Books are always around,” he says. “Anywhere you go in the world, you can usually find people getting rid of books.”