Help Me Keep Bookshops Alive!
My earliest memory is being perhaps 4 and wandering off to peruse some books at a huge independent bookstore near where I live. When I returned to my father’s blue jean-clad legs, I reached up to take his hand. Upon successfully making contact with his hand, I was confused and slightly scared when a strange man looked down at me, bewildered as to why I had grabbed his hand! My dad was watching nearby, and quickly came over to take my hand and reassure me that he was still with me.
Bookshops were a huge part of my childhood, and I can remember no treat so pleasing (or so lasting) as a brand-new book to take home and dive into. The second biggest treat in existence during such a childhood was to be allowed to begin reading the book on the car ride home.
But bookshops, I’m realizing, are a dying breed. Borders closed down a few years ago, and tons of the little independent stores are having a tough time keeping their doors open. Amazon has taken over the book business, and I’m not so sure I like it.
According to this Yahoo! Finance article, Amazon pays sales tax in only six states (Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Washington), although other states are trying to collect sales tax from Amazon as well. The company’s tax practices are under investigation in the UK, China, France, Japan, Luxembourg, and Germany as well. “But why,” you query, “should I pay sales tax on Amazon? That’s one of the reasons I buy from Amazon in the first place!” Well, I’ll tell you why you should pay taxes. Here in the U.S. (I’m sorry, I don’t really understand the tax systems in other countries yet), sales tax goes toward things like public education. Which is in the shitter. And why should you care about public education? 1. You benefit from it. Even if you, personally, went to a private school, many of the people you work with throughout your life will have gone to public school and the ideas and hard work of those people (as well as your own) are what will keep your work life successful. 2. Your children (if you have them) benefit from it. Again, even if it isn’t direct or immediate, it will aid them in the future.
Sales tax also pays for nice, useful things like new roadways that help us get to where we need to go. You use the roads, right? And Amazon uses those same roads when they send big trucks full of goodies to their consumers. But do they pay even a penny for the fact that they benefit from the public roadways? Nope! Amazon also has all sorts of other sketchy marketing practices that make it, in my mind, the Wal-Mart of the interwebz.
But back to my main point: bookstores. Where are they, how can we find them, how can we keep them alive? Obviously, the main way to do this is to buy books – and lots of them! There is nothing so grand as a nice, new book with that new-book smell and those unwrinkled pages…book lover’s heaven.
But if buying books new is outside of your budget, here are a few other ideas for keeping these dying gathering places alive:
1 - Buy some coffee. A new book could cost around $20-30, but a cup of coffee (available in lots of bookstores these days) should be about $3.50. Way more affordable, yet still bringing the bookstore business and helping them succeed.
2 - Start up a book group or a writing group… and meet at the bookstore. Even if you can’t spend money, drawing more people into the store on a regular basis will improve that store’s chances of staying in business. You never know, you could meet some great friends along the way!
3 - Sell used books that you will not read again and that hold no sentimental value. I don’t know if other people do this, but I stockpile literature. I have a strict policy of not re-reading books unless it’s for class or it’s Harry Potter, but I hold onto the darn things anyway. I do have some books that were given to me by exes or other people that I’d like to hold onto, and books like those are okay to keep. But just think of all the books you could get if you sold your books and got new ones!
4 - Frequent used bookstores. You won’t have nearly the selection or the most up-to-date reads, but you’ll save a fair chunk of change by going to used bookstores.
5 - If you’re more into independent stores, go ahead and check out indiebound.org for a list of independent bookstores that may stock the books you’re looking for. In some cases, you can even order online!
6 - Bite the bullet and do it anyway. There are so many great books out there, books that will literally change your life. They will show you a new perspective or way of thinking, and that will be it– you’ll never be the same “you” again. Depending on where you are in your life, buying a book can be pretty costly (I mean, some of us just shelled out hundreds for textbooks, I get it). But if that book could change the way you look at life, could improve your situation, or speak to your soul in a language that no other human could attempt to…just do it.
Now, here are a few recommendations from a sworn book lover:
1 - Postsecret, compiled by Frank Warren. Any of them. When I check that website or read those books, I instantly feel connected to all of humanity. It’s a blissful (but sometimes empty/scary/vulnerable) feeling– sort of like when you reach the top of a roller coaster, and the world opens up below you.
2 - Grapefruit, by Yoko Ono. When I first read this one, back in 2007, it was tricky to get my hands on. But now that it’s been re-released/re-printed/some-kind-of-booky-term-I-don’t-know, it’s a lot easier to get ahold of. It’s a read that stays with you, and since it’s really a “book of instructions,” it’s easy to read in pieces, so it’s great for people who are busy and only get to read while in the waiting room.
3 - Other People’s Love Letters compiled by Bill Shapiro. These things are addictive! You feel ever-so-slightly guilty for this private peek into the lives of strangers. A great compilation of what’s becoming a dying art form.
1 - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. This is one of those change-your-life books. It’s about a boy with autism and how he witnesses a dog killed, and then goes to extreme lengths to find its killer. It’s a whodunnit/coming-of-age(ish) novel that you will not forget.
2 - The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. This is a semi-autobiographical book by a woman who is famous for her disturbing poetry. My favorite detail about Plath’s real life is that, when she made the decision to end her life by turning on the gas oven and sticking her head in, she carefully put towels under and around the door frame to protect her children. The book is a slight trip into neurosis.
3 - Lucky by Alice Sebold. This is a book I read in one sitting and simply couldn’t put down. The author is of The Lovely Bones fame, but here she is telling her own memoir, which is a tale of rape and Sebold’s bravery in addressing her assault.
If you’re like me, and some of your fondest memories occurred toddling around a bookshops (there are so many more memories, but I don’t want to type your ears off!) with friends, families, and even strangers, then do us a favor: buy books. Keep bookshops alive. Bookshops are a place to bathe in different cultures– to swim up to your ears in a world entirely created by two imaginations. It’s a unique connecting place for humanity, and I fear that before we know it, these places will be gone.
Share in the comments about a book you’ve loved or a memory you’ll cherish of a bookshop! I’ll meet you there!
Written by Becky Havens