A recent edition of “Parade Magazine” included an excerpt from the new book: “My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop”. In that particular excerpt, novelist Richard Russo paid homage to the Alvord and Smith Bookstore which was instrumental in cultivating his life of books. He writes, “Many people love good bookstores, but writers? We lose our heads over them. We tell stories about them. We form lifelong attachments to our favorites. . . to me bookstores remain places of wonder. Like libraries, they’re the physical manifestation of the world’s longest, most thrilling conversation.”
Russo is right. Bookstores are magical places, places of infinite possibility. They foster the exchange of ideas and beauty and creativity. And as writers, we dream of having our books included within their walls.
I honestly can’t remember the first time I set foot in a bookstore. There was a little one near my house in a strip mall, but as a child it seemed huge, and I fondly remember browsing the books, especially the classics. I wanted to read them all!
The bookstore that truly changed my life, however, was called “First Edition” and was in the now defunct Fairfield Mall in Chicopee, Massachusetts. In my teen years, I visited it whenever I could. It had books on what, in my rather limited perspective, I imagined was every topic possible, including some that I knew my mother would most definitely not want me reading!
Among that store’s treasures was a rounder of “blank books” with beautiful covers and blank pages inside. Those books held such potential for me. I dreamed of owning one, and when one was given to me for my fifteenth birthday, it was one of the best gifts ever and began my (so-far) life-long love affair with keeping a journal. I have twenty-three of those books now, and each time I get a new one, I still wonder what will ultimately fill those pages.
My love affair with bookstores only increased when a “Barnes and Noble” opened in my area. I had never seen so many books for sale in one place! I was truly amazed. And they had chairs! You didn’t have to try to read in the aisles, hoping no one would get upset with you. They actually encouraged you to sit down and browse. Surely, this was a slice of heaven!
On-line bookstores are great, especially enabling those of us whose books will never make it into a bricks and mortar store to sell our books and find an audience, but they can never match the tactile experience of browsing in a bookstore. There is magic in perusing the shelves and picking up a book, turning the pages, and perhaps reading a chapter or two.
The past couple of years, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to patronize my local bookstores whenever possible. Yes, many Catholic books I want to buy are only available on-line in my area, but there are many mainstream books that I purchase, especially for my children, that are available in stores. There is a wonderful pleasure in making the trip with them to the store to buy them, and I like to know I’m helping to keep those bookstores in business. I want bookstores to continue to exist, to continue to provide their inspiration for generations of future writers. And, I still dream of seeing one of my books on their shelves!
What was or is your favorite bookstore? I invite you to share your story of falling in love with a bookstore in the comments.