In the age of e-reading, people are questioning what is becoming of the physical book and, by extension, bookstores. We all felt the devastation of Borders closing back in 2011, and I'm still recovering from my favorite local bookshop closing in 2013 (it's the store outside of which I waited in line on July 20, 2007 to get my copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as soon as the clock struck midnight on the 21st—you can imagine how well I coped with that). As disheartening as these closings can be, allow me to reassure you that the art of getting lost in bookstores as you lose track of time in the aisles is not over, and I'm not just talking about Barnes and Noble (although I am a huge fan of Barnes and Noble).
A few days ago, I decided to adventure to a small, recently opened bookshop about a half hour away from me, and it brought some warmth to my cold, kindle-hardened soul. (I should note that I don't actually have anything against kindles and e-readers. As long as people are reading and appreciating literature, I really don't care whether the words are on paper or a screen. I just think there's something really special, perhaps in a merely nostalgic sense, about actual books. I just like bookshops, guys.) The shop I visited is Rare and Used Books in St. James, NY. It's owned by a local proprietor of super awesome stuff, including books that come with stories beyond the ones in their pages. These books have histories, from their previous owners to the authors themselves. There are signed copies, first editions, beautifully bound classics and historical documents, kids' books—even the entire Gossip Girl series. Shelves were dedicated to unusual finds from Tolkein, Rowling, and George R.R. Martin that you never knew existed. The entire shop is packed with fascinating and gorgeous literature, and it isn’t a long drive away.
I almost bought The Federalist Papers, probably because of my recent obsession with Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, but I talked myself out of it in an effort to save money. I ended up leaving with two used books: Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. These copies look like they’ve been well worn and loved, and there’s something really cool about that. Gulliver’s Travels is filled with notes from a previous owner studying the text, which is what really drew me to it. I take notes in books all the time, and it’s cool to own an old copy of a book in which the previous owner did the same thing. I find myself making up stories about the previous owner, and connecting with them in my own mental fiction.
My bookshop adventure proved to me that it’s possible to find books still being celebrated and valued non-commercially, and I encourage all of you to find out where your nearest independent bookshop is and visit it. Let’s support our small, local book sellers, and keep the love of books alive in the twenty-first century!