There is a truly worthwhile article in The Canberra Times that you should read in its entirety for, if nothing else, its sincerity. I cannot resist quoting here, however, part of a radio address given by the economist John Maynard Keynes. It’s just one of those collections of words that you (I) wish you (I) could have articulated your(my)self.
The reader, he said, “with all his senses… should know their touch and their smell. He should learn how to take them in his hands, rustle their pages and reach in a few seconds a first intuitive impression of what they contain. He should, in the course of time, have touched many thousands, at least 10 times as many as he really reads. He should cast an eye over books as a shepherd over sheep … He should live with more books than he reads, with a penumbra of unread pages, of which he knows the general character and content, fluttering round him. This is the purpose of libraries …
“It is also the purpose of good bookshops, both new and secondhand, of which there are still some, and would that there were more. A bookshop is not like a railway booking-office which one approaches knowing what one wants. One should enter it vaguely, almost in a dream, and allow what is there freely to attract and influence the eye.
“To walk the rounds of the bookshops, dipping in as curiosity dictates, should be an afternoon’s entertainment. Feel no shyness or compunction in taking it. Bookshops exist to provide it; and the booksellers welcome it, knowing how it will end.”
I’ll drink to that.
May 17th will mark the 25th anniversary of this little bookstore-that-could. A quarter of a century. It’s remarkable. A bookstore housed in a less-than 400-square foot space, where nothing digital has ever seen the light of day (okay, maybe a clock or two,) where no poorly-written book has been given shelf-space, is about to be 25 years old!
How have we been able to stick around this long?
Dennice Rousey is to blame.
Dennice and the hundreds of people like her throughout the years. You see, Dennice lives in San Diego. But we, about 130 miles away, are her bookstore. When she visits her nephew she’s also visiting us. She comes in, stocks up on months’ worth of books and leaves. When she saw our Staff Picks section a couple of weeks ago she was quite miffed that we hadn’t thought to put them on our blog– for her, since she can’t come in every week. I find this relationship absolutely awe-inspiring. That, in this day and age, it’s still possible and can still be nurtured, is really something.
Yes, we have great books. Yes, we have knowledgeable and passionate staff. Yes, all the gifts that surround our books are unique and pretty cool, too. But none of it would mean anything if it weren’t for the Dennices of the world, who recognize the beauty of it, who seize it and do whatever they have to (travel as many miles as they have to) to support it.
[Ed. In the original version of this post we called Dennice Rousey, Mary Day Dewart. We’re red-cheeked about it.]
“What gives indies leverage? Customer service. Community. When it comes to a physical store, I go there because I want a certain level of interaction. I want human contact. I want tactile… I want to be seduced by a cover with a striking image, and, honestly, I think booksellers have a better idea of what attracts readers than publishers (especially those publishers who don’t leave New York very often). Extra points if there’s a clever shelf talker. I am a sucker for a good shelf talker.”
‘s Kassia Krozser in her post, “Bookstores Now, More than Ever.”
I’m on a panel of people from which a pair of lawyers will today select the jury they want for their trial. I hope I will not be held in contempt for telling you, before the trial is over, that the presiding judge is the most intelligent, hilarious and sweet man I’ve ever had the pleasure of addressing as Your Honor. The man spent a great deal of time explaining, in plain English, just why it is that we must all be presumed innocent and did a better job than any professor I’ve known of explaining the meanings of “reasonable” and “doubt” and “reasonable doubt.” I think I may have fallen in love a little. What made him more lovable was that he had something meaningful to say about each prospective juror’s occupation and life choices. “Two daughters? Aww. I have two boys. I wish I had a daughter. There’s nothing like ’em.” “Financial analyst? Oh, how about that bladi blah with the bladi bluh….” “Independent bookstore? How about that Border’s, eh?” You know what he said next? He said, “every bookstore that closes is one bookstore too many and one less bookstore is a tragedy as far as I’m concerned.”
So, yeah, we have shelf talkers. And our staff spends a good deal of time composing the most thoughtful few lines of recommendation and summary possible… so that you can walk around and find, literally, the perfect book for you. And you can turn around and ask us, “When you say on this shelf talker, “this book is brilliant,” what exactly do you mean by that?” And we will define for you our definition of brilliant and spend another 10 minutes telling you how the book changed us and why we loved it and then we’ll ask you about your favorite books, the last book you read that you loved and from that we’ll glean whether or not this particular “brilliant” book is likely to be brilliant in your estimation. If not, we’ll know just what else will. Where else can you find that other than an ice cream shop?
One of our regulars came in looking for a book, but oh, darn the scrap of paper he had written the title on had gotten left at home. Do we not have days like this? Grocery list left on the kitchen table, only hitting all the red lights after missing your off-ramp, running late-grab shirt-grrr, button missing, do car keys drop onto nice bare pavement…no, into muddy street runoff. Etc. We at the bookstore live to loosen the tangle, restore the groove, and maybe even deliver the goods! So…the forgotten note is my happy opportunity! He ponders a moment, then confidently claims: the title is “The Death of Democracy” by Chris Hayes. Well, as it turns out…not. Surprised, he remembers Liberalism being involved. Death of Liberalism? Nope. Democracy and Liberalism, Liberal Democracy,…no and no. Chris Hayes? Well, there’s a Chris Hayes Macromedia Study Guide, and a Chris Hayes with Green Bay Packer inspirational stories. No dice. Shifting scale, we consult the planetary scanning capabilities of Google, and still nothing.
In addition to the universe sometimes having a contrary flow, this is the other impediment we face…the fallibility of memory. It’s so comforting to feel we remember accurately, but police line-ups and scientific research have so often proved this to be sweet self-deception, as we at the bookstore regularly witness. We do not give up. The strategy now is to abandon title, and author. Where did you hear of this, I ask. On NPR, he says. Well, bingo! Do you remember the day of the program. Friday, he says confidently. Of course not Friday. Nor Thursday, nor Wednesday. He says definitely not Saturday, but maybe Sunday. Ah memory. Of course not Sunday. I try the denied Saturday. There it is, big as life. Death of the Liberal Class, by Chris Hedges. Oh so yummy, memory outwitted, harmony restored. All is well in the world. Or at least here at the bookstore.