Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bookstore Evangelism?

Pam's post about Amazon got me thinking (and all of us talking, again) about a delicate issue: how can we praise and promote the unique and treasured thing that is the indie bookstore without taking a jab at our competitors? It's not always an easy conversation to have- we never want to hurt feelings, and I have no interest in trash talking. Even so, it's a conversation that comes up with some frequency. Whether it's someone asking what, exactly, “indie” means, or an offhand comment about the difference between shopping here and shopping elsewhere, I do want to talk about it. I believe, strongly, in what we do. And I don't mind telling people why.

This particular bookstore has been around for 110 years, and the collective knowledge floating inside this one building astounds me. I'm constantly impressed by the vastness and depth of information packed into the gray matter of my colleagues- when I'm looking for something obscure or vaguely defined, and someone says, “Go ask so-and-so, she's the gardening (or literary fiction, or history, or eastern religion, etc) expert,” I'm rarely disappointed and often delighted. The physicality is also important to me. Yes, I like the smell of books, and even more I like the walls of books, the surrounded feeling of being “in the stacks.” I like the lines of spines and artful covers faced out. I like to walk over to a shelf to put a book away, or find another one, and have coworkers find me, fifteen minutes later, sitting on the floor grinning silly like a kid. “You guys! Did you know that...” I like that a good bookstore is like a church of books- you can feel the reverence with which thousands of hungry eyes have passed over these shelves. People find salvation in books, and they do it here, all the time. I see it; I talk to them. The book love is palpable, and it makes it feel like a place not only book lovers, but books want to be. Like if you saw a stray book on the street, this is what a Good Home would look like to them, and if you brought them inside, they would wag their tail, find their place in the alphabet, and curl up to wait for just the right person.

There are political and ethical reasons for shopping with local businesses (which the previous post eloquently enumerated), and that's important to me, especially when it comes to the accessibility and diversity of art and information, which is what books are. But in the ideal indies-are-great conversation, I'd like to think we can emphasize what is truly singular about our store (and great independent bookstores in general) without landing too ungracefully on the implied corollary that those things are missing elsewhere. Regardless of what other options are out there, I have a lot to say about us. Because we have something special. Something I hope is irreplaceable, because a world without indie bookstores isn't the one I want for myself, or my future kids (which are a really long way off, so relax, Mom). So I guess I'm just going to have to keep talking about it.

--Anna, Kids Books


  1. Here here! So important and so eloquent. Thank you, Anna, a million times over.

  2. Right on! This is so well said! Thank you, so much, for putting it so well.

  3. Wow, Anna, what an inspiring post. I found myself at a certian chain bookstore that shall not be named over the weekend, and although I found many of the same books, the atmosphere was sorely lacking. It was just so...sterile.

  4. I agree that "a world without indie bookstores isn't the one I want for myself, or my kids." Every time I walk by the empty space that used to be Bailey-Coy Books I remember the hours I spent browsing there when Iris was a baby, and how much she loved going there with me. That's one thing that keeps me buying at University Book Store and independents wherever I find them.

  5. related... also, anna, you're awesome, and awesomely right.



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