On the Closing of Bookstores

Some  mumble mumble  years ago, I found Scott Cunningham’s Magical Household: Spells & Rituals for the Home and Raymond Buckland’ss big blue book Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft misfiled across from the one shelf  of “New Age” books in the B. Dalton’s in my local mall. What a treasure! From there I discovered a whole new world.

In the days before the internet, I relied on bibliographies from the backs of books, publisher’s catalogs, NPR stories, and the New York Times Book Review to find new sources. There was a small used book-shop in my area but, aside from an extraordinary and surprisingly rich collection of science fiction, it was filled with Christian ephemera and Harlequin romances. Although I lived in the deep South of the U.S.(commonly known as “the Bible Belt”), my local bookstore always filled my needs, tracking down and ordering books and magazines from publishers of which they’d never heard. Over the years, that one shelf evolved to a whole dedicated rack and often the manager asked me what they should order.

I’ll never forget the day he asked timidly “I don’t mean to intrude or invade your privacy, but … are you a witch?” That was the first time I publicly admitted being Wiccan. His response? He asked if he could call me occasionally with questions and recommendations about books for his customers. Later a Book-A-Million moved into our growing town. I often bought my books at the B. Dalton’s in the mall and took them across the street to the coffee shop at BAM. When a small New Age shop opened, I patronized them as well, though their stock was of necessity small and their prices higher.

 When we moved near the large city of Atlanta,GA there were book chains and New Age shops galore and I was in bibliophile paradise. My town boasted a long-lived and well-managed New and Used bookstore. The advent of the internet and online shopping hadn’t drastically changed my buying habits. I’d browse online much the way I had done through catalogs and then order through my local stores. My reasoning was to keep the stores in business and let them know where their customers’ interests lay.

Now I live in a small Southern town with no bookstore and, despite the local University, a tiny poorly stocked public library. The nearest chain bookstore is a hot hour’s drive away and the nearest used bookstore even further. The online bookseller is my life-line. I miss the feel and sight and smell of books, so once a month or so I make a trip “to town” that includes books and craft shops. Oddly, the experience of my earlier life is reversed. There is no way I can afford to buy all the books my heart desires when I stand in the aisles of Barnes and Noble. So I jot the titles and authors in my notebook much the way I used to make notes from catalogs and book reviews. When I get home, I find them online and order one or two each payday.

“Give me a man or woman who has read a thousand books and you give me an interesting companion. Give me a man or woman who has read perhaps three and you give me a dangerous enemy indeed.” - Anne Rice in The Witching Hour

One of the unstated costs of losing another physical bookstore is to the exploring reader. Had I not stumbled on those misfiled books all those years ago, I might never have taken a pagan path. My journey to the Goddess would have been long-delayed. I think of other readers, wandering through the aisle, looking for something, anything, to read, finding unexpected delights and treasures on unfamiliar shelves. I think of my daughter, laying on her stomach reading in the children’s section, having to be dragged away from books, begging “Please mommy, just these two! I’ll do extra chores!”  I think of the like-minded individuals I bumped into while absently lost in the shelves, of recommendations and conversations.

 Here’s a little challenge. The next time you take a trip somewhere, count the bookstores. Oh, there will be hardware stores, car dealers, movie theaters, bowling alleys, and even airports. But where are our bookstores? Do whatever you can to encourage and support your local bookstore, even if it is a giant chain. Without them, relying only on advertisements from the end of our E-books, publisher’s online sites, and booklover’s forums, our horizon’s are much smaller.

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