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Thursday, October 6, 2005

Chapter Thirty-Eight, in which your Bibliothecary comes to an Understanding

I enjoy understanding things.

Several chapters back, reader Aubrey posted a comment about her fond memories of an old bookstore:

[I] was very happy to discover a small bookstore with an air of perpetual twilight in the college town. It was called the Blue Dahlia and I found many treasures there. I have not been back since 89 and its probably long gone, but if you can give someone a long-lived fond memory, with the existence of your bookstore, you will have done a wonderful thing!

A few days ago I clicked upon Kate's Book Blog where she had earlier posted some observations about independent bookstores. The proximity of the two experiences, receiving Aubrey's comment and reading Kate's posting, made me wonder if there was something special to independent bookstores.

To Kate I commented:

What is it that makes independent bookstores special? Why does one remember fondly a used bookstore, but not a library? Why don't we have the same feelings about a laundromat, or a grocery? Can feelings for a place such as a bakery, or a local fruit stand, match those for an independent bookstore? Is it the "independent" or the "book" or something else that makes them so special to so many?

My questions were not rhetorical. I enjoy understanding things, and I hoped to understand what may be a widespread phenomenon.

Kate, in fact, did have fond memories of a library. She also had fond memories of a bar and cafe, to which her analysis provides a start to understanding:

...it’s all about the ambience of the place -- the d├ęcor, the food, and, most importantly, the people.

I begin to wonder if the lure of independent bookstores lies most in the people. And then Kate sums up all the questions I had asked:

Being in a room full of books generates a paradoxical combination of comfort and excitement that I've only otherwise experienced in a really good relationship.

Did you just experience the "Ah-hah!" of understanding with me?

Here, then, is my interpretation. As many great book readers and lovers have said, books are like people, they are friends. When I walk into a bookstore and find the proprietor has for sale The Great Gatsby in first edition, I immediately have a bond with him. He shares my taste in books. And in reading that book, again and again, returning to it as one would regularly telephone an old friend to keep in touch, I develop a really good relationship with Jay Gatsby and Nick Carroway and Scott Fitzgerald. Their familiarity comforts me, I listen to their stories as a good friend would, and I get excited at the prospect of spending time with them. Even though I may enjoy cookies, or kiwis, or clean clothes, I do not form a relationship with any of them, or the places in which they are found. And so an independent bookstore, as opposed to a retail outlet for publications, becomes like a bar or cafe, where one goes to congregate with one's friends, meet similar folks, and gossip with the proprietor and patrons about what Salman Rushdie has been working on.

I can't help agreeing with Aubrey: I hope one day my bookstore will inspire fond memories in someone in just this fashion. And so does everyone on the shelves, as they wait patiently for another friend to visit.

I think I understand now.

3 comments:

  1. This is wonderful: "And so an independent bookstore, as opposed to a retail outlet for publications, becomes like a bar or cafe, where one goes to congregate with one's friends, meet similar folks, and gossip with the proprietor and patrons about what Salman Rushdie has been working on." You've captured the magic perfectly in that passage. And if you've done so in words, I'm guessing that you've done so in setting up your store as well. I wish I was near enough by to drop in and browse.

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  2. I am so glad that I was able to strike you into harmony, like a tuning fork set near a crystal glass. I have somewhere an essay I wrote about the venerable Carnegie library in the town where I grew up, but its on a floppy disk and its location is at present unknown. I will keep looking and post when found. Or if not found soon, will attempt to recreate and post here. Its all about the books and the silent communication of the pages of whispers.

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  3. Aubrey, I'm struck. Sounds like an essay I would enjoy. Perhaps my other two readers would as well. email me. callimachus@quilldrivers.com

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