A Love Letter to Independent Bookstores

I’ve never seldom, met a bookstore (or book-selling venue) I didn’t like. I will happily browse through a big box store, a used bookstore, or the odd shelf of books in a flea market stall. In a strange town or foreign city, a bookstore visit will always make me happy, even if most of the books are in a language I can’t read. I’ve never come away from a library sale without an armload, or in the case of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference annual book sale, several canvas bags full.* But independent book stores have a special place in my heart.

Heritage Books in Springfield, Missouri, was my first bookstore crush. It was a small store in a strip mall within walking of my house. In retrospect I realize that the selection was both small and eccentric, but at the time it seemed as bounteous as the Strand Bookstore in New York, which boasts eighteen miles of books. In some ways both the smallness and the eccentricity were to my benefit as a novice book buyer. On those rare occasions when I had some money to spend on a book, I gave in to the delights of serendipity, finding books I didn’t know existed.

Today I live in Chicago, which is home to fabulous independent bookstores. Once again, I’m lucky enough to live within walking distance of my favorite stores: the very academic Seminary Coop Bookstore and its more commercial sibling, 57th Street Books. I browse. I chat about books with booksellers. I eavesdrop on the bookish conversation of others. I check to see if my own books are on the shelves. I check to see if my friends’ books are on the shelves. I attend an occasional reading when the stars are in alignment. I resist the temptation to buy books I don’t need, because at this point I already own several hundred books I have not yet read. And I give in to the temptation to buy more books because with bookstores it’s a case of use them or lose them.

In the United States, the last Saturday of April is Independent Bookstore Day–a nationwide party for book lovers. (If you’re reading this the day it comes out, that’s tomorrow.) If you’re lucky enough to have an independent bookstore near you, stop by and show them some love. Me? I’ll be heading to 57th Street Books and the Seminary Coop with a wish list and an eye for a serendipitous find.

*Held each year on the weekend around Columbus Day. It’s a dangerous event. See you there?

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