Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dispatch From The Field: "It's about the connections, " says Joe.

This past Christmas, I wanted to buy my partner a book of old maps. I wanted it to be an old book with old maps because we wanted to cut (I know, sacrilege!) some of them out and frame them. I went into the little bookstore on our town's courthouse square. It's a used bookstore, and is crammed with books, antiques, and cards. The owner of the shop helped me locate the sections books of maps would be in, and I was able to find a perfect book at a great price. I ran into her a few months later and she asked me how the book went over. It was then that I realized how much I miss having a new bookstore in town. The little shop on the square is the only bookstore in our small East Central Illinois town... New books can be found at our grocery store, at the Wal-Mart, and that's about it. I've never liked buying books from any place other than a bookstore. Seeing books stocked like groceries on the same aisle as pens and pencils has no appeal to me.

Although reading is a solitary experience, books are shared. Their stories are discussed. They become movies. They affect lives: bringing comfort, insight, education, or humor to us. It is this connection that leads me to shop at bookstores... The bookseller can recommend a book based on their connection to it. Seeing books on a shelf while shopping for groceries gives me no connection.

Talking about books is the best reason to work in a bookstore. The chance to share your reaction to a book with a fellow bookseller or a customer. And sure, the ultimate goal is about selling books. But I don't know many booksellers who recommend books solely to make a sale. They are recommending books because they loved them. Because they remember that you loved the last book by this author and think you'll really like reading this new author. It's that connection. And here in my town, we are missing that connection in regards to new books. There are no books stacked up on tables, begging for a reader to pick them up, look at the artwork on the cover, read the blurbs on the back and inside. There are no favorite nooks to read in, no familiar path through the shelves, with the anticipation of finding a gem. There is no chance to walk past someone taking a look at the George R.R. Martin section, giving me the chance to talk about how the books are still so much better than the series, although I would recommend both!

When I travel I seek out an independent bookstore in each town I visit. And when I go home to Denver, I have to schedule three separate visits to the Tattered Cover... one for each store, not only because I have friends who work at each one, but because each has its own character, and the recommended books differ in each store. Every time I buy a book as a gift, I start off on the Tattered Cover's website, or I call up a bookseller and ask them to recommend books to me over the phone. My sister has told me every time I've talked to her since Christmas that Little Bird by Germano Zullo is still my niece's favorite book. That book came recommended not only by Judy on the blog, but reinforced when I called the store and Sarah said it was the best new picture book. This is why I shop at independent bookstores. It's about the connections.


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