Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Bookstore Addiction

Book store addictions may soon become a problem of the past. Every few months this year seems I read in newspapers, or hear on the radio that another independent bookseller is having to close their doors. (scroll down to Wikipedia's list of Indies at the end of end of article.) I feel guilty Indies are closing and think about how much my ordering that last book online contributed to their demise. I really do like going to a new or used bookstore, a library, and just wandering around.

I guess the beginnings of my book addiction occurred when I was quite young with stories being read to me, receiving books as gifts. Some were given to me with an inscription the book had once been gifted by someone else to my giver. They were now passing along their treasured book to me. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I would progress to visiting libraries, finally venturing on my own into a store selling new books. Probably, by the time I was a young adult I was becoming habituated to all forms of the book store habit.

I can remember being in my then home state's capital one afternoon when one of the main streets sported several adjacent large used book stores. I wandered in and out of them for several hours, up and down aisles lined by long shelves filled with books. I recall walking in the door, sensing a mixture of aromas emitted from the paper, bookbinders glues -- a musty aging smell that sounds quite off putting, but one I experienced as a unique special odor pleasantly wafting through the interiors air.

My awareness of a love affair with books began in the late 1940s when I was old enough to ride a city bus all by myself downtown, then walk the block or two over to the city library. I was in the upper years of elementary school. A young girl my age traveling alone in our community of around 15 thousand residents was quite safe then making such early afternoon daylight trips and walking around on our down town's main streets, in and out of stores. I could attend select daytime movies alone -- usually musicals.

I could even sit in the back of the bus. That was the location of the most attractive seats to those of my young age group. It wasn't until my family moved to another part of the country a few years later I was shocked to learn sitting anywhere on the bus was not free and open to everyone. Plus, I could no longer sit in the back of the bus. One more example to me that there were inequities in the world needing righting.

At the library I loved the freedom of looking at all those books to decide which ones I might select to check out and bring home. I also could look through books some might have considered "too old for you" and then select them for reading. I sometimes favored big thick books because they were really complex with plots that were challenging to follow and lots of pages meant the stories would last awhile. Historical dramas became a favorite and then a liking for other genre developed.

I introduced myself there to Lorna Doone, Madame Bovary which I probably read quite differently than I might have as an older adult. At home were books I had been gifted which were also favorites: The Bobbsey Twins, and always favored dog stories like Lad: A Dog. I still have a box of these books, but haven't looked at them for so long I can't remember what else might be in there. I always found it hard to part with books. Though their contents became part of me I still wanted to retain the physical enclosures of those magical words, people and places.

Recently I've found myself drawn back to bookstores, so have indulged that attraction. So many years there simply wasn't time in my life to do other than run in or out of a bookstore or library for just a pre-determined specific book with little time for leisurely browsing or reading. The independents and most used bookstores have slowly departed my area communities so I'm left with large corporate bookstores that probably contributed to the loss of the Indies. Now, it seems even those larger enterprises are under assault. I guess I better make the most of these stores before they are forced out.

What I'm finding pleasurable now is time spent just looking around in these bookstores that sell new books, even if they are chain businesses. Their plush easy chairs hidden throughout the store beckon. One section of the store draws me as it is situated near bars dispensing a variety of coffee lattes, iced beverage mixes, fruit scones, pastries, fruit and nut flavored bread slices, sandwiches, other finger foods.

I've gotten quite taken there with tables of books labelled: "buy 1, get 1 half price" -- noticing large size paperback books I intended to read but hadn't, along with some titles quite unfamiliar to me. An early afternoon on one of my first book store visits I noted that table held a familiar Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and unfamiliar Elizabeth Berg's Dream When You're Feeling Blue. I've never been that keen drinking coffee other than straight black, but thought I might just splurge on this store's Seattle's Best in a nonfat latte form, try out one of those easy chairs and see if I really wanted to buy these books. Many hours later as I read the last page in Berg's book, I glanced out the floor-to-ceiling window behind me to discover darkness had enveloped the night.

I was quite surprised I had become so engrossed in this novel about three sisters, set in Chicago when World War II was raging in Europe. At that time I was only elementary school age. I thought of my older cousins living in a small village, driving weekends during a time of gas rationing to a city in a nearby state where they attended USO dances, entertaining the troupes. Some servicemen they met were invited on weekends home with the girls and their parents -- the "home away from home" atmosphere all of America wanted to create for our military, mostly sons, and daughters wherever they were in this country.

Author Berg is not of the WWII generation but has created her story from the memories of relatives who were. The sisters letters written to servicemen on the battlefront, coping with a boyfriend's departure, learning about love are the lessons at home and away in this compassionate tale of these women.

I used to want to buy only hardback books, but many many years ago I became attracted to large size paperbacks as they seemed to comprise more titles of interest to me. Also, a friend in the entertainment business, who had necessarily periodically relocated around our country as his broadcast contracts changed, told me he switched to paperbacks to lower his shipping expenses. This cost saving measure made sense to me given the difficulty I had parting with books I'd read and my expectation of moving about, too.

I have completely lost all reason these past few months with my periodic visits to this bookstore, and now have several books in various stages of being read. There's Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik and Complications by Atul Gawande. Also, Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos and Born On A Blue Day by Daniel Tammet intrigue me.

I recently visited one of the few used book stores near me. They will accept some new books but have a buy back provision for books purchased there. I also discovered they either have new ownership, or at least have changed to significantly increase offerings of a type that interest me, so I purchased an older release of Margaret Atwood's, The Blind Assassin. I read her writings many years ago, but drifted away to other books. I have other books in the process of being read or waiting to have their pages turned, others I've completed reading and may write more about here in the future.

I have reached one conclusion. I hope the day never comes when the only way I can obtain a book is online, or at large corporate bookstores who've decreased the variety of selections they offer, or when all independent book stores have closed.


  1. I never shop online for books. I am lucky to live near several independent bookstores. How long they will remain in business is hard to predict.

  2. I don't shop online, period. We still have several independent booksellers around here, but I confess to buying at Sam's and Costco because the prices can't be beat! I love old used bookstores; the smell is intoxicating to me, and we have several of those here too.

  3. From one booklover to another, I was so sad to read a statistic that only 56% of adults bought a book in the past year.

    How can that be?

    Bookstores are one of my favorite places.

  4. rhea & kenju: You're both really lucky to still have access to so many Indie bookstores. At least 3 or 4 more longtime Indies are having to close in L.A. Ours out here in the eastern part of the County went long before that.

    motherpie: I knew readers, especially among the young, were declining, but even we adults are reading less, too, from those statistics. Hard for me to imagine life without books.

  5. I'm with you, Jo! My books are my friends who never ever fail me. And my love affair with libraries began when I was 6 when I got my first library card at our neighborhood's branch of the Toledo Public Library which was on my way home from school.

    I love book stores, too, and decry that several I liked have closed here. Border's is about all that's left and a couple used book stores and that saddens me greatly.

    Glad to know that we have another interest in common besides our Buckeyes! :)

  6. Are we book readers becoming dinosaurs? Books have always been one of the most pleasurable companions my whole life as well. Many indies sell on-line. Our wonderful BookWoman also features women's music, poetry and book readings, and feminist merchandise, like jewelry, CDs, and the like. I'll look up the URL and send it along. I love book lovers!

  7. BookWoman's URL:


  8. I adore you for this post. Books are a particular passion of mine.

  9. kay: Sounds like we're on the same page for several things.

    kokopelliwoman: BookWoman sounds like a neat store. Our womens' bookstore closed a lot of years ago before Internet sites were available. Maybe they could have survived with an Internet site. Thanks for including the web address.

    jay: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your passion for books. I discovered some interesting writing at your blog(s).

  10. I so agree, ,y dear. THere were some independant bookstores right here in Hollywood, on Hollywood Blvd...Pickwick was a WONDERFUL store....And there was another one that may still ne around...(PICKWICJ is l-o-n-g gone, I'm sorry to say...) Larry Edmonds, which speciailized in out of print and used books from films, thestre, etc....I don't know if that is still around, etc., etc.....! One of the joys of browsing was because these places were so very special......
    The only bookshop..AND That is what they were..Bookshops...that is left here in Hollywood is Samuel Fench, which a truly spectacular bookshop filled with ALL things relared to Theatre, Films, Music, TV, etc...!
    There was another bookstore called The Cherokee Bookshop also on Hollywood Blvd. So within two or three shortt blocks there were three bookstores, all different and all special! Those days are over, for sure.

  11. oldoldlady: Oh, I wish I hadn't missed visiting those shops now that I have more time. Might be fun to visit all the So. Cal. Indies left.

    BTW is Samuel French in Hollywood the same who offers play scripts and rights? I remember we sometimes selected plays from a Samuel French (still have all my scripts stored away somewhere -- just an amateur.)

  12. Like you, I developed a love relationship with book stores and books at an early age. My shelves include every book I've owned since about junior high age. It grieves me to even think of parting with any book.

    We order online frequently for convenience and for the fact that many of the titles we want are not available in local bookstores, corporate or indie. But we also buy a lot of books from the local B&N as well as a wonderful little indie in historic downtown Franklin.
    ( http://www.landmarkbooksellers.com/ ).

    If you're ever traveling through here, it is worth the stop, like Square Books in Oxford, MS.

  13. Winston: Sounds like me with a mixed group of book sources. Thanks for adding another Indie book shop location.

  14. Hi joared (is your name jo?)
    This is a wonderful post. I especially liked your reminiscence about the 40s. I prefer the small, independent stores. It makes me feel good to know that my dollars are staying in our community. But I have often spent a rainy afternoon in one of the large chain stores enjoying a coffee and a comfy chair.

  15. Hi, Joared. Thanks for your comment on my post about facebook. I'll be back to it soon.

    I was drawn to this post because of my own love of books. Reading started so early, I don't remember it; but my love of bookstores began with my discovery of 84 Charing Cross Road - the book, not the movie.

    Haven't been able to stay out of them since. Woefully, with the exception of one very small shop, there are no real book sources here. Our nearest Hastings is 45 minutes away and their new location in that town is a downsize and a shift away from books toward music and video. So sad...