Independent bookstores are like an intellectual aphrodisiac for me. Seriously. Wherever I am, whichever city I’m in, I seek them out and can spend hours browsing, picking up this book and that, taking chances on books I’ve never heard of and end up loving, stumbling across an old favorite that I probably don’t actually need another copy of but can’t resist buying. I love the actual sensation of being physically surrounded by books, of having tall shelves with titles so interesting it’s worth stretching up on my tippy-toes to try and see what they are, of turning corners and finding myself suddenly in the “essay” section.
From Shakespeare and Company in Paris to Book People in Austin to Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi to The Tattered Cover in Denver to The Book Lady in Savannah (which I just visited for the first time today), my love runs so deep for these places. I feel so at home there. So at ease. I feel like I know who I am there, like I fit, which if you’re anything like me, isn’t always the case out in the world.
They are my refuge. My safe place. My church. I really do view them as sacred. Sacred and so important.
At a time when people’s attentions are pulled this way and that, and when it can sometimes seem like the very world around us is fraying, bookstores serve such a tremendous social purpose. They provide context and perspective and opportunities to learn about the other human beings in the world — opportunities to practice understanding and empathy — it’s all right there, waiting for you to pick it up and jump right in. Go ahead, turn that page.
Of course, you may say, well it doesn’t have to be an independent bookstore — you can get books elsewhere, ya know. And I do know that. But I believe those of us who are readers and book lovers have an actual civic duty to support our local booksellers and independent bookstores everywhere.
So, if you’re a book lover like I am, get out this Valentine’s Day weekend to your closest independent bookstore and talk to the folks running it. Meet your neighbors. And introduce yourself to some new books, too. Book love is real love.