Thursday, January 8, 2015

An Ode to Bookstores

Obviously reading something like The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is going to make me think about bookstores. That is after all the author's, Lewis Buzbee, point. Though the book is showing its age a bit (it was published in 2006), Buzbee's book does one thing very well. It tells the story of the bookstore from its historic roots through to today's chain stores. We watch the evolution of bookseller, publisher and author, as the world created a place for them to sell their wares. It is a cozy history an any true lover of books and bookstores will enjoy this look at their history both through facts and Buzbee's extensive experience working in and around bookstores most of his life.

From Goodreads
However, what I think I loved most about this book was the memories it brought to me. The first bookstore I can remember frolicking through was a Waldenbooks at Great Northern Mall in Clay, NY. It wasn't a large store but it had books jammed into every possible nook and cranny. I coveted gift certificates to the mall on every gift giving occasion which I would promptly spend at Waldens. It was here in sixth grade I stumbled across a paperback of Anne of Green Gables and here I begged my mother to drive me back to over the next few months as I devoured L.M. Montgomery books by the bagful. I don't remember when it closed exactly; I think I had already left for college so it was simply gone one time I came home. I remember the profound sadness that washed over me when I saw its empty, dark storefront. It has been such a place of wonder and possibility to me as a kid. For it to be suddenly gone seemed tragic.

I've since visited many an awesome bookstore. I've had very generous and patient friends let me loose in Tattered Cover and The Strand. Lost myself in Blackwell's and many a Waterstones on the other side of the pond. I even almost missed my ride in Hay-on-Wye (truly a book lover's heaven on earth).

Sadly, but perhaps a good thing for my bank account, I find myself these days often living in places with few bookstores for me to lose track of time in. I content myself with one fantastic used bookstore and two chain stores these days. I am mocked daily by the Borders sign that I drive past every day, the store space long since turned into a DSW. I once walked the hallowed floors of Borders #1 as it put fabulous independents in the area out of business. Now it too has gone the way of the dodo.

However, Buzbee is right about bookstores. They aren't going anywhere. They will change, evolve, consolidate and morph as they need to but they won't leave us. Too many of us enjoy browsing, sampling, sipping a latte while reading a book we have no intention of buying. Amazon and its ilk are convenient and they get plenty of my dollars but nothing beats working through the shelves of a bookstore on a rainy day and coming across that one book you didn't know you'd been looking for all your life. Long live the bookstore I say!

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