The Closing of “My” Bookstore

As I write this, another bookstore is about to die. This, on its own, would be a tragedy in itself. For a booklover, the bookstore is almost as much a part of the experience as the book. From the rainbow of spines peppering the worn wooden shelves to the intoxicating odor of old paper, a bookstore is a special place.

But this isn’t just any bookstore, it is my bookstore, and that makes a world of difference. When I say it is my bookstore, I don’t mean I own it. Not in any literal sense, though I’ve probably spent a month’s rent inside. The store is owned by Half-Price Books, but for me and the regular customers, it was ours.

I know where to find everything, from the Clearance rack that is always my first stop and has been the location of assorted treasures, to the somewhat misplaced genre authors (Caitlin Kiernan and Richard Matheson can be found in Science Fiction and Fantasy, rather than horror). This place is the reason I could go six years without purchasing another book and probably not make it through my collection. They have fueled a sort of addiction, but have also given me the comfort that only a good bookstore can provide.

This story is nothing special. It happens all over the United States, probably every day. Amazon has proven to be the femme fatale mistress of the bookstore. While I love Amazon and my Kindle, it saddens me that physical bookstores are unable to compete.

Yesterday, all the regulars received a letter from Half-Price Bookstore thanking us for our patronage and reminding us of other locations: Olathe, Kansas City, and a new store in Independence, MO. The Lawrence location, they say, didn’t get enough traffic. Of course there are other bookstores. Others in town, others of the same chain in other cities. Unfortunately, 15% off coupons and other options can’t ease my melancholy mind. They aren’t my bookstore.

I’m sure I and the other customers will move on. It’s human nature. But in the meantime, I will miss the little treasures I have found, and the staff that was never anything but nice. Books are very personal things. I’ve found postcards from a trip to Yellowstone in a copy of Bird by Bird, an essay on Faulkner inside a copy of As I Lay Dying, and numerous inscriptions from anonymous loved ones within numerous books that were loved and then passed on.

Books are like people, in that they contain more than their outward appearance. Similarly, while the closing of a bookstore is sad on the surface, it is tragic for the staff who gave so much, but will now be looking for new jobs. I wish the best for all of them, and for all of the customers who will now go on a search for a new bookstore to call their own.

Beneath the Avalanche of Previously Read Pages

I  have a very good memory for images and phrases.  I have largely relied upon that memory when it comes to one of my favorite hobbies, used book stores.

I will find a book by an author I like, or simply something sitting in the $1.00 bin that looks interesting.  I will then mentally compare it to images in my head, deciding whether or not I already it.  Is it one of the hundred books I own that I have yet to read?  I buy books at nearly the same rate I read them, if not more quickly, meaning the gap between read and owned just keeps getting larger.  Thus, I found myself returning a copy of The Resurrection by John Gardner, of which I found an older edition already upon my shelves.

It’s not my fault, really.  I am a book addict.  I walk in to a used bookstore and I breathe in the pages.  The bookstore is a comforting smell and a comforting sound.  Despite being a mercantile establishment, the bookstore is quiet and serene as a  library.  I walk the aisles and find books with worn spines.  These books were once read passionately.  If I listened closely, I could probably hear the dreams of its past readers.

I open the book and flip through the pages.  Sometimes I am lucky and find artifacts of the book’s past life.  Here, an inscription to John, from his mother, who gave him the book.  John, in turn, apparently sold it to the bookstore.  I  found entire papers on literary theory written in the margins and blank pages of As I Lay Dying.  My favorite recent find was a postcard used as a bookmark within Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.  Someone visited a place they loved enough to buy a postcard.  Finding it inside a book on the writing life was like finding seeing another person’s life in object form.

A friend suggested I try tracking the books I owned on  Last night, I logged them.  I own around 350 books.  If you add the collection on my Kindle, that puts me well over 500.  It’s amazing how quickly the count snuck up on me.  It didn’t seem like I had that many books, even though the wall of my bedroom is lined with shelves, straining from being overfilled by paperbacks.  Most of them are in their second life, having been purchased used.

As a writer, I find them comforting.  They represent a successful writing project for the author, as in successfully published.  Some of the books aren’t exactly successful, if you know what I mean.  They also represent a past reader.  Within the bookshelves exists hundreds of examples of the writer-reader relationship.  It is a reminder that people still care about books, and what is written in them.

I can’t imagine trying to move again.  Books are heavy and the last time was a real pain.  Ironically, for a used book lover, I have a very hard time selling books.  Although before long, space might force my hand, or risk dying under a heap of collapsed oxidized-yellow pages.

Next time you are in a used book store, don’t shun the books with writing in the margins, or names written inside the covers.  Realize they were loved once, and you may love them again.  Be suspicious of perfection in a bookstore.   Books without cracked spines and dog-eared pages can’t be trusted.

Happy hunting.  You may find yourself lost for hours, or at the very least, with a very space-consuming habit.  Just don’t blame me for the weight of the UHaul boxes the next time you move.