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Bookstores deserve a stimulus package, from readers

In a post titled “A Bookstore Stimulus Package?” in the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times Web site, Stephen J. Dubner highlighted a plea from the president of the Author’s Guild to its members to “mount a book-buying splurge” to support independent bookstores, since they certainly won’t be on the list of bailout recipients. While the automakers have developed and sold products based primarily on immediate profit opportunities and what the market wants, independent bookstores have operated out of a love for their products and what the market needs. What the market needs is fewer cars and more books. But that would require more readers.

I wish there existed strong, consistent support for independent bookstores, or even books. I love books. I have always loved books. Books represent one of my few prized possessions. Besides books, what I want for Christmas is more bookshelves. I often buy books as Christmas and birthday gifts – and just because. And I think there are few more thoughtful gifts than books.

GoodnightMoon Good Night Moon was one of my first purchases when my son was born because it is the first book I can remember from my early years. I preferred to read more than just about anything – eat, sleep, or do homework (that is not surprising). My elementary school doled out prizes based on the number of books students read, during the school year and the summers. And I remember filling my sheets with lots of stickers representing dozens and dozens of books read.

I remember reading Madeline L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, the entire Hardy Boys series, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the others in the series, over and over and over again.

bookmobileThere were no vacations from reading – reading was vacation – and my actual vacations were marked by even more intensive reading. Growing up, my family traveled to Finland almost every year. In the town of 200 people where my mother grew up, they had a library on wheels – similar to an ice cream truck, only bigger, that you step into and make your selections. I waited anxiously every few days to pick up a few new books and comic books that I quickly devoured.

 

Anything that encourages reading is a plus in my mind. Oprah and other book clubs are good mass stimulants of reading. The concept of the Kindle is intriguing and I am an early adopter of new technologies that aggregate information and simplify your life, but I don’t think that books can be made more perfect. They may become more accessible with technology, but they do not get better. They are never better as movies or as audiobooks. Every book is different, from the cover to the spine to the text to the paper. I don’t want more space – I want more books. And downloading books from Amazon.com or even Powells.com just does not compare to the bookstore experience.

shakespeareandcoThere is nothing like spending a few hours in a small, independent bookstore, combing through the stacks and finding a couple gems. I love visiting bookstores in different cities, and countries. It’s a spiritual experience. I love getting new books, but I love finding used books. There’s an automatic connection I feel to another person who I don’t know. I don’t have to know them. There is just something poetic about the shared human experience.

I hope people turn off the television more often to read. I hope people frequent indie bookstores more often. I hope independent bookstores collaborate with each other and connect more with prospective and current customers to grow the category in their communities. I hope more people give the gift of a book this holiday season.

What independent bookstores should do to thrive is a completely different subject. The only point of this post is to say that, in my mind, bookstores and books – and the ideas contained within them, are far more important than cars. I know why we have to debate saving our car companies. But we should not need to discuss how to save our bookstores.

Want to escape? Read

Want to be someone else? Read

Want to be a great writer? Read.

Want to be a great thinker? Read.

Want to be a great talker? Read.

Want to be a great lover? Read.

Want to be a great leader? Read.

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