I can think of no better way to kick off Independents Week on my blog than with an anthem for bookstores.
After all, don’t bookstores exemplify the independence that made this country what it is, the reason behind us having a July 4th celebration at all?
Talk about a David & Goliath struggle. Or to reference another biblical story, independent bookstores have faced more trials than Job. Chains. Online vendors. What’s next, locusts?
Now don’t get me wrong–I love a trip to Barnes & Noble. 60,000 SF of books–plus snacks–is like nirvana to me. No one can fill an events room like B&N and they do a wonderful job. While Amazon has brought me books I can’t find any other way–not to mention authors no one would have been able to find either.
Still…there’s something about an independent bookstore. A place you know you’ll never see anywhere else, reflecting its unique location, the unique tastes of the staff that buys for it, and the unique customers who frequent the place.
Every summer we drive cross-country, and as thrilling as it is to see the geological vastness of our country, one rock formation transmuting into the next, badlands in South Dakota giving way to buttes into Montana, another thing that has impressed us is the awful sameness of it all.
Olive Garden in Missouri tastes just like Olive Garden in New Jersey. It’s harder to ferret out that Swedish burger–boy, was it good, Swiss cheese, some kind of sauce, and house-cured pickles–in Minnesota these days. Harder even to know that Minnesota has such a heritage.
But the Fourth of July is a happy time, and so is this week on my blog. Likewise, there is good news on the bookstore front. Another thing we’ve seen as we’ve made our way across the country is that the dreary reports may not be an accurate reflection of what is happening.
How else can you explain the second branches of beloved stores opening up, such as Left Bank Books in St. Louis? Or independents coming in to fill massive Borders spaces that were sitting empty? Or the crush of customers we’ve found at nearly every store and their rosters of exciting events?
You can’t go to such an event online. Not if you want to feel the author’s actual palm, nervous with sweat, because this is one of his first readings. OK, you may not want to feel that precisely, though the author I’m referencing here is definitely one worth seeing and reading. But what about seeing the warmth in a big star’s eyes as he greets each and every one of three hundred fans?
I’m not the only one who suspects there might be a reversal of our expectations where independent bookstores are concerned.
It was thriller writer Thomas Pluck who first alerted me to the fact that my local bookstore is expanding. That’s right, expanding. The place we’ve packed a hundred guests into for a Writing Matters panel is going to increase in size during this time of economic downsizing. You can read about it–and take a gander at Thomas Pluck’s intriguing books–here.
There is a convergence of factors right now that may work on the side of the independents. Locavore has become a term many know. There isn’t just slow food, but also slow money, slow schooling, slow travel. A whole slow living movement. Can slow reading be far behind?
Oh my goodness. Here’s slow books. I swear I wrote the above before discovering this. No, really. I did.
When independent bookstores are threatened, a whole way of life is, too. But perhaps we value that way of life more than the big corporations would have us think, even more than we realize. For the independents continue to rise up singing, raising a flag for what is really a mainstay of our country.
Main Street. The idea that someone could have a passion for something and make the selling of that something a pursuit for life. The community store we frequent, doing our shopping when we have shopping to do, wiling away hours for fun and diversion when we don’t. The human contact and connection that form the web, strong as spider thread, between the people we live amongst.
In “This Old Town” Nanci Griffith sings:
When my children’s children
Ask me why didn’t I go
They say the heart of any town
Is the people that you’ve known
They’ll always call you home.
I want to see a bookstore in every town.
They will always call me home.