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Bricks, Mortar, Paper, Ink


 

I have this not so secret dream of owning a bookstore someday. When I’m overly stressed or have an idle moment, I often daydream about my bookstore. I stroll around the low, sturdy, dark wooden shelves in my mind. They’re a little battered and they are heavily-laden with well-loved paperbacks. The walls are colorful; each one painted in a different comforting hue: blues, purples, maybe a splash of red here and there. On these walls would be paintings from local artists. I like to support the art community when I can. I imagine worn wooden floors strewn with mismatched oriental rugs and cozy leather armchairs lining the walls. My patrons would lounge with their new adventure in hand. I want more than just a coffee bar in my shop. I want to team up with a baker that would make fresh pastries each morning and I want a liquor license because nothing goes with a comfy chair and a good book like a nice glass of wine. When one enters my shop, they are immediately welcomed with the scent of paper, ink, fresh coffee, and baked goods. It will be a little slice of bookish heaven.

I realize a bricks and mortar bookstore would probably be a poor investment in today’s climate. More bookstores are closing down than opening these days. Online shopping and eReaders are starting to take the place of good, old fashioned browsing. But it’s just not the same. There’s something special about visiting a bookstore, especially when you don’t really know what you’re looking for. You can slowly walk up and down the aisles for hours, letting your fingers caress the colorful paper spines until something calls out to you. Until you find The One. You know the feeling, it’s like a little electrical charge. Something inexplicable draws you to that one book sitting patiently among the other thousands. I have to pick it up and feel it’s weight in my hand. I carefully examine the front cover, then the back. Lastly, I open to the first page and read. If the first page gives me goosebumps, I know that, for better or worse, the lives of these new character and mine will forever be linked. I will know their loves and their vices, their dreams and their failures. I will know them better than I know members of my own family.  I will carry them with me forever in my imagination, long after the last page is turned. Few relationships are as intimate as this.

I have to choose my literary companions wisely. This takes time. I’ve had my process for years. I can’t even remember when it started. When I was little, I used to crave going to the bookstore and the library. My parents would dread these outings because I could never just pick one. The very thought struck me as horrifying. I had to carefully comb the shelves for intriguing titles, I had to approve of the cover art, I needed to read the back cover, I had to know for certain that this story would grab hold of me and hold me under it’s spell until the last sentence. I was always shocked that so few people really understood this. One cannot simply walk up to a bookcase and just pick one. That’s just crazy.

At this young age, I promised myself that I would work in a bookstore someday. It struck me as the most magical kind of job. While most kids were wanting to be doctors and firefighters, I was aspiring to work specialty retail. Story of my life, really. At eighteen I got my first bookstore gig. I had no idea that I would still be a bookseller nearly seven years later. It was much less glamorous than I had imagined. I had only thought of being surrounded by my beloved books and book people. I didn’t realize that I would be spending so much time wrangling the typical array of mixed nuts that a bookstore attracts. Nor did I realize I would be monitoring people as they made their adult movie selections or fetching an alarming amount of used porn out of the restrooms. Yet, the job was still magical in a way. It had to have been to keep me in the business for so long. As much as it aggravated me some days, I miss it terribly now.

The people who work in bookstores are a rare breed. My coworkers consisted of an odd mix of artistic types and academics, all brought together by a shared love of the written word, music, and caffeine. We all tended to have a twisted sense of humor. I’m still not sure if this is purely coincidence or if the environment itself just collectively warped our brains. You can’t scare me, I work in a bookstore. In this group, I never really felt like a nerd. Nerddom was praised and encouraged. The bookstore was a shelter for us. I’m fairly certain that a vast majority of my Facebook friends are bookstore people. I can’t even set foot in a major local bookstore without knowing at least one person. It’s like we’ve got our own little secret society. I guess it’s kind of weird if you think about it. What will happen to the book people if our stores are shut down? I know that I don’t fare well in other retail jobs. I’ve tried. They never lasted.

While online shopping is convenient, there is nothing magical in it. You need to know exactly what you are looking for and the virtual book world is dominated by bestseller lists. I don’t generally like book recommendations. Reading shouldn’t be a popularity contest. Just wander into an actual bookstore someday and open yourself up to the books. Let a small gem quietly introduce itself to you. Give it a chance. You may just find your new best friend. You may also give my imaginary bookstore a chance to come to life.

 

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