A Love of Books

My girlfriend says it is like watching a kid in a candy store when we visit a book store. I suddenly appear to have multiple arms, like a Hindu deity, and my stride becomes a purposeful lurch.

Any purpose to my stride can be attributed to my knowing that she is not much of a fan of shopping at all, and less of a fan of browsing, of idling, in a store whose shelves are taller than six feet and could crush us.

Lucky for her, there is only one bookstore in the county we reside in (2010 population 372,813), which is unlucky for the residents of the county we reside in. It is a terrible indictment of American commerce and American education that a county with a third of a million people has one bookstore. And it is a small-size edition of a big-box chain store whose name almost rhymes with “Barns and No Bell.” (It is the last major bookstore brand in the country.) There are no independent booksellers in the county we live in. There are fewer and fewer independent booksellers in the entire country: only 1500 exist in the United States. According to some articles, including one in Slate in 2014, independent bookstores are making a comeback. This may be so, but 1500 of anything in a nation of 300 million strikes me as incredibly scarce.

I spent the 1990s employed at an independent bookseller. (And what is the difference between the terms “bookstore” and “bookseller”? The owner of the bookseller in which I worked explained to any employee who made the mistake of answering the phone in his presence with a cheery, “Such-and-So Bookstore, how can I help you?”—in other words, me on my first day there: “We are not in the business of storing books.” His eyes flared.)

An independent bookseller is not a part of a chain of stores, is not owned by a big corporation. I loved working in a building full of books, for a locally-owned business that was a part of the community, but I hated working for anyone. (I am a hard worker and a good employee, except for the whole “being an employee” part.) When one works for people who started their own business (I have seen this in multiple retail establishments and at a couple of family-owned newspapers), one has a difficult time impressing the owners with one’s dedication, as they were so dedicated that they started the darn thing in the first place.

Some independent-owned booksellers can be very large and successful: the Strand in New York City, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, the Tattered Cover in Denver. The bookseller that I worked for closed in 2006 after 35 years in business, which is a statement that brings the happy and the sad right next to one another. It was a great run, but it ended.

I still dream that I am working there, 15 years after I left. I still dream that I am browsing in a crowded store in the first mall that I used to bike to, South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie. The store was one of a chain that was called “Book & Record,” and it did not sell many of either, which may explain its current status as a dead store from the ’70s that no one but me remembers. The mall itself has been demolished. But the experience of being eight years old and losing myself in the one shelf of books or the one rack of records that Book & Record deigned to display among its offerings of almost anything except books & records, that experience of daydreaming about reading (something like daydreaming about having the chance to get around to daydreaming someday, which is a wonderful daydream), that daydream is what my girlfriend sees re-enacted in my her boyfriend whenever we stride into the last bookseller in our county.

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This week is Banned Books Week, which celebrates the freedom to read and spotlights the many—and the many ongoing—attempts to ban books in the United States. Support your local bookseller/store if one is near you. Support your local library.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 29 asks, “You get to be a 6-year-old kid again for one day and one day only—plan your perfect 24 hours. Where do you go, what do you do, and with whom?”

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20 comments

  1. wscottling · September 29, 2015

    In our little town of ~6,300, we have a used book store right here in town. And a library. According to Google, there are three major bookstores near me (including B&N), and this little finder (http://used-bookstores.find-near-me.info/) there are 100 used bookstores (their label, not mine) “near” my town. What they consider near may not be the same as what I consider near, and whether they’re still open or not. I dunno. But it seems that the sellers of books are indeed making a comeback in this area at least. Of course, I live within an hour’s drive of Seattle, so there’s that. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sandmanjazz · September 29, 2015

    Sadly it is going that way over here in Blighty, though this is partially due to the increase of the closed in shopping centre where the rents are so vast only the major chains can afford to set up shop. On the plus, we still have a lot of old fashioned high streets and market towns with various side allies where the independent shop can thrive. Aside from the Waterstones and WH Smiths you can find smaller book shops like Candlelane Books and Purple Haze, the latter being a specialist genre shop. I am some what benefitting from living in a county which lacks a city and full of historical towns meaning there are still plenty of interesting stores in side streets to discover.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mjennings · September 29, 2015

    We also used to have an independent bookstore here — a locally famous one that had been around since the 1950s. I saw only recently that it was no longer. It’s not only the decline of booksellers; it seems representative of the end of small businesses that must compete with big box retailers. Sadly, we now have to drive 30 miles to a shitty BAM, where the books are outrageously overpriced and aren’t the selling point to begin with (they’re all like crowded gift shops, focusing more on pop culture novelties rather than…oh, I don’t know…BOOKS). We’re lucky to have a decent library collective, but the powers-that-be have been docking their funding, causing a number of librarians to be out of a job or have their hours lessened substantially to the point where they have to find supplemental income at a…you guessed it…Books-a-Million. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  4. loisajay · September 29, 2015

    There are a lot independent booksellers in and around my town. My younger son and I can get lost in those. Oh, just the smell of a bookstore…..the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. lagerwhat · September 29, 2015

    I have many friends who worked at the major independent booksellers in NYC that have gone the way of the dodo: Coliseum Books, Shakespeare & Co, Liberia Lectorum, Rizzoli, the list goes on. And they still lament their loss, just like you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Leigh W. Smith · September 29, 2015

    There are worse things than to be a swinger of birches . . . or reader/buyer of books. And sorry to hear you only have the one bookstore in your county, Mark; that’s bizarre. There are several in this smallish rural county, population almost 270,000, so a good chunk of people fewer than in yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. rogershipp · September 29, 2015

    “My girlfriend says it is like watching a kid in a candy store when we visit a book store. I suddenly appear to have multiple arms, like a Hindu deity, and my stride becomes a purposeful lurch.” I understand completely! Give me my Christmas money and a bookstore and look out! I have to leave my wallet in the car when I enter our Book Fair! That way I can only spend what is in my pockets. (Of course, I have been known to cheat and go out to the car of additional cash!… No self-control?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · September 29, 2015

      ” When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”—Erasmus

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Windmills of My Mind · September 30, 2015

    All my pin $ was spent on books, still doing it. Library sells 6@.25c what glory it is when I find out of print ones!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. secularscarlet · September 30, 2015

    I find myself lucky to firstly live in the beautiful City of York, England and secondly to be surrounded my qntique booksellers most od them within the shadows of York Minster.

    My favourite bookseller is housed in a store in a Medieval building more of an Aladdins cave with room after ramshackle room that has been around since the mid 1800’s

    I hope you can visit someday

    Deana 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  10. secularscarlet · September 30, 2015

    Okay i admit i have just done some research and am in shock… It seems my fav book steeet in York has been selling books since 1580 😳😳

    I wish i could figure out how to send you a pic . Please google Minster Gate Bookshop 😳😳

    Liked by 1 person

  11. thebloggingbeebleeds · September 30, 2015

    I love going to bookstores too! And libraries! In fact I am planning to blog about a recent visit to a library. Coming back to bookstores, my city has half a dozen. But there used to this one store that I really liked, where they had nice little sofas and would let you hang around all day if you wanted and read books for free. But they shut down within a year and it was so terrible. I was almost heartbroken. Their numbers keep shrinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. thebloggingbeebleeds · September 30, 2015

    used to be**

    Like

  13. Lissa A. Forbes · September 30, 2015

    Love your post, Mark. I too am a bibliophile! And have my own library of sorts. I worked at Borders for a bit before they closed their doors. Liked them much more than B&N. It was there I had the epiphany that I would never ever be able to read all the books that might interest me. Unfortunately, I am one of many who put bookstores out of business. I just love Amazon, although I did have a great experience in a little independent bookstore in one of the Denver metro cities. Thanks so much for sharing your love of books!

    Liked by 1 person

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