Locally-owned independent bookstores have always been an important facet of any community. Foremost, they are advocates for literacy and challenging thought. Their shelves are stocked with thousands of books, each representing a unique point of view. Minds on a shelf, so to speak. Almost universally, bookstores are supporters of human diversity. Books themselves teach us empathy by allowing us to look at life through someone else’s eyes and experience worlds hitherto unknown to us.
Used bookstores also function as preservationists, extending the life and thought of voices from the past by sheltering out-of-print and antiquarian literature.
What else do we do? Speaking from the experience of 35 years in the book business, the next important and unpaid service we provide to our community is human contact, often solace, in a sometimes lonely and confusing world. I compare myself to a “bartender” but without the alcoholic beverages. A long time ago I used to provide free coffee and overstuffed chairs for hours of lounging and conversation, and some bookstores still do.
When I was lucky enough to have a spacious bookstore, The Eclectic Reader was a venue for local writers to hold book signings. We also hosted open-mike nights, community events, music, lectures, and conversation groups… almost always free. We have had nearly 50 Conversation Cafes supporting respectful listening and open-minded conversation on meaningful topics.
Like all bookstores, we provide hours of escape-browsing and relief from the general cares of life. How wonderful it is to be lost in a bookstore!
Naturally, there is usually a bookstore cat. Monty, a gregarious, polydactyl, large and fluffy orange tabby is our current feline therapist.
Particularly in a used bookstore, the owner is often the one behind the counter and we can be a chatty lot. I freely share my knowledge on appraising the value of books as well as my opinions on books and writers and all things relating to books. It is no secret that I like to carry on a good conversation now and then.
What should be the role of the community bookstore in this era of alternative facts, narrow minds, destruction of principles, and fear? Already The Eclectic Reader has offered refuge and sanctuary from verbal abuse and hate. Diversity is welcome here.
How far will our country go with suppression of the media? Banning of certain authors? Book burning? These possibilities would have a devastating effect on free thought, one of the foundations of our country. We must be vigilant and protective of our rights.
Nothing could be more important than freedom of information. I urge everyone in communities with independent bookstores to be supportive of their efforts to remain a viable avenue of free thought. Buy the books we offer, attend the events we are able to provide. Be an active part of your literary and mindful community.