Every collector knows the probably apocryphal story of the nineteenth-century composer and bibliophile Charles-Valentin Alkan, found dead in an avalanche of his own books, crushed when his shelves upended onto him. Like the sex addict who suffers an aortic catastrophe during coitus, Alkan, at least, died smiling.
William Giraldi, “Object Lesson: Why We Need Physical Books“
Resurrecting the Bookstores
Saturday, May 2 is a wonderful new holiday. Last year, bookstores in California decided to create a Bookstore Day. Ninety-three bookstores participated in a day of celebration, special events and sales that proved so successful, it is now a national phenomenon. Publishers provided limited edition books and goods that bookstores sold for one day only. Authors gave readings. Readers got deals, and bookstores enjoyed a spike in sales. More importantly, as one bookseller explains, “The idea is not only to drive sales, but to also create a fun annual event in the spirit of Record Store Day . . . It’s a party, an awareness campaign and a sales promotion.”
This weekend 350 bookstores across the country will join the fun (and our friends in Canada will, too, as it is Authors for Indies Day). What, besides a chance to meet a celebrity author or scoop up discounted books, is there for readers to celebrate? Resurrection. Fifty-nine new independent bookstores joined the American Booksellers Association last year, and the number of indie bookstores has grown by 20% over the past five years. Rejoice!
In an an age indelibly imprinted, we are told, by the supposed demise of print, the rise of e-books, the hegemony of Jeff Bezos, and a decline in reading, why are small, community-centered bookstores making such a strong comeback? There are several excellent reasons. First, as Nicole Davis writes in Brooklyn Based, Amazon’s sales slipped last year, in part because of bad publicity during its holy war against Hachette, “proof that convenience isn’t the only factor that people consider when buying a book. We care about its provenance, too, and that concern has helped to change the outlook for local booksellers.”
As more consumers become aware of how unseemly their dependence on Amazon has become, they are drawn back to actual bookstores, and especially to independent ones redolent of local culture and engaged in the community. Many indie stores have reaped the benefit. “Not having to compete on the same scale as chain stores and Amazon has allowed the indies to curate their stores and events without focusing exclusively on the bottom line,” writes Davis.
Sure, if you’re looking for an obscure academic monograph (a used one for, say, 99 cents) instantly delivered via drone while you sit at home in your socks, Bezos is your man. However, your local indie bookstore can do a lot for you that Amazon cannot, especially if you are an avid, open-minded, inquisitive reader. Indie stores, as one New York bookseller points out, “are gathering places, cultural connectors, curators of content, and much more.” The owners, managers, temporary and volunteer booksellers — and even the other patrons — are often full of friendly suggestions for your next read.
If you go to Parnassus Books in Nashville, you can get some of those recommendations directly from one of America’s great novelists. Ann Patchett, who founded Parnassus in 2011, has recently described the joy of advising readers in her store. Indies like hers are surviving, even thriving, for a fundamental reason:
Reading is a solitary act, but the transmission of books contains an aspect of joyful sociability.
It also contains an aspect of obsession. People want to have books in hand. William Giraldi, in an impassioned essay, waxes erotic:
The physicality of the book, the sensuality of it—Oliver Wendell Holmes called his collection “my literary harem”—the book as a body that permits you to open it, insert your face between its covers and breathe, to delve into its essence, its offer of reciprocity, of intercourse—this is what many of us seek in the book as object. In his bantam essay on book love, Anatole France starts off swinging: “There is no true love without some sensuality. One is not happy in books unless one loves to caress them.”
of the ATL
So, how does one get one’s hands on a book worthy of a caress in this city?
In yesterday’s New York Times article, “Atlanta for Kids,” parents considering a vacation to the capital of the South are advised:
The City of Decatur, population 75,000, shares a boundary with the city. It’s essentially the Brooklyn of Atlanta, but with fewer hipsters and more strollers. The center of town is called “The Square.” It serves as a base camp for eating, play and shopping, which should include a visit to the Little Shop of Stories, a great bookstore that is a regular stop on the book tour circuit for some of the best children’s authors in the nation.
Right on. Decatur is thriving and LSOS is indeed indispensable. For Independent Bookstore Day, LSOS is devoting the day to celebration:
It Takes a Village to Raise a Bookstore: Ten Year Anniversary Celebration / Independent Bookstore Day
LSOS is “hosting a party at the gazebo, on the square, and in the shop.” In fact, May 2 is really a sort of omnibus holiday for LSOS:
We’re holding our Tenth Anniversary Party to coincide with Independent Bookstore Day, Free Comic Book Day, and the start of Children’s Book Week. So we’re celebrating all over the place.
Indeed. Not only is the store staging a kind of festival (complete with “a bouncy house, face painting, sidewalk chalk, games, and more”), LSOS has partnered with several Decatur Square businesses. Brick Store Pub, one of the nation’s best beer bars, is offering “something special for adults (‘Little Hop of Stories’),” while Atlanta’s favorite purveyor of ice-cold treats, King of Pops, will sell “the Little Pop of Stories.” Can you guess where LG will be Saturday afternoon?
Of course, LSOS is not alone. Atlanta has venerable indie bookstores that are also enlivening this new holiday.
Charis Books is always ready to party. As the Little Five Points institution says of itself, Charis has been
Celebrating 40 years of feminism and independent voices!
A Cappella Books, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is also offering limited editions, special goods, and “A Cappella’s first T-shirt in almost a decade.”
Readers in the ATL can look forward to many more books because of indie stores, and that is no small thing. As Giraldi concludes, “Books, like love, make life worth living.”