Friday, January 26, 2018

For The Love Of Bookstores

I have not yet visited an Amazon Bookstore, though I am a little curious about what it would look like.  My fear is that it would feel like I’m in a warehouse or inside a computer, everything neatly lined-up and symmetrically functional and fully void of personality or passion.  One, I anticipate, could easily substitute bags of pasta or bars of soap for these books on likely dull shelves.

But I could be wrong.

I’m predisposed to favor traditional bookshops, especially the long-standing indies that hold the surrounding community together from the very masonry employed to house our books.  There’s nothing like walking into a well-worn bookstore, run by book-centric people who see each book as an investment in one’s soul, where they assist others on a journey toward enlightenment and fulfillment, where curiosity is indulged, and the weight of thought parallels the value of our most precious commodities.

Folks, I’m talking about the bookstore.  It’s not merely a place one might be able to get a book, such as Target or Costco.  It certainly is not found online.  The bookstore is that treasured palace for seeking minds to gather, explore, and find refuge.  The bookstore is the temple of knowledge and an oasis to those who want to grow their wisdom, live out their imagination and come to find like-minded intellectual gypsies.

The good news is that after decades of severe decline, the number of bookstores is growing.  The growth is coming from the indie bookstores and not chains like Barnes & Noble.  This means bookstores are opening the way all bookstores first began to pepper the colonies and United States – as small businesses run by families or friends, where people sold books not because it was such a great business venture, but because the owners loved books and saw their importance in society’s development.

Give me the bookstore housed in an old space – wooden floors, brick walls, multiple floors, tight staircases, and shelves filled up and down, front to back, left to right with books of all imaginable sizes, shapes, colors, and content.  Let the store be filled with the sounds of inquiring minds, the air thickened by the love of words.  Strangers congregate as if they are puzzle pieces being reunited to solve a mystery. The energy of the bookstore restores them with regenerative powers.

Bookstores have never been nor will they ever be like any other commercial site.  They are different.  They are the centerpieces of a town, like a church, a school, or a firehouse – places that represent culture and collaboration.  When you come upon a bookstore you know there’s hope that the town is not a wasteland, devoid of thoughtful people.

Unfortunately, too many places in America are known as book deserts, places where no bookstores exist for many, many miles. That needs to change.  

Bookstores shouldn’t get built just to fill an anticipated need.  They should exist so a need is created.  The more people are exposed to bookstores, the more we’ll see an increase in readership.

It’s much easier, in terms of physical access, for Americans to locate a gun shop than it is to locate a bookstore.  Do we want to raise thinkers or snipers?

Bookstores, if run well, can survive, even thrive on their own.  But if it requires permanent tax breaks or charitable fundraising to keep bookstores open, so be it.  Too many people don’t get to experience the beautiful wonder of bathing in books and having thousands of years of advice, information, questions, and fantasies swirling about their fingertips.

the bookstore still represents a community of active minds, believers, and thinkers. The bookshop is a very important instrument of democracy. Bookstores are cultural institutions, almost landmarks that need to be preserved. They don't just sell a product - -they actively give oxygen to our brains and connect us with our search for truth.

Here are some excerpted insights about bookstores in a wonderful book I just completed:

Excerpts from Bookshops:  A Reader’s History by Jorge Carrion

1.      “Every bookshop is a condensed version of the world.”

2.      “You need no passport to gain entry to the cartography of a bookshop, to its representation of the world – of the many worlds we call world – that is so much like a map, that sphere of freedom where time slows down and tourism turns into another kind of reading.”

3.      “The history of bookshops is completely unlike the history of libraries.  The former lack continuity and institutional support.  As private entrepreneurial responses to a public need they enjoy a degree of freedom, but by the same token they are not studied, rarely appear in tourist guides and are never the subject of doctoral theses until time deals them a final blow and they enter the realm of myth.”

4.      “We travel to discover but also to recognize.  Only a balance between those two activities can give us the pleasure we are seeking.  Bookshops are almost always a sure-fire bet in that respect:  their structures are soothing, because they always seem familiar; intuitively we understand the orderliness, the layout, what they have to offer, but we need at least one section where we recognize an alphabet we can read, an area of illustrated books we can leaf through, a scattering of information that, in its precision – or simply by chance – we can decipher.”

5.      “As an erotic space, every bookshop is the supreme meeting place:  for booksellers and books, for readers and booksellers, for readers on the hoof.  The familiar features shared by bookshops throughout the world, their nature as refuges or bubbles means that encounters are more likely there than elsewhere.”

6.      “Bookshops in the second half of the twentieth century possess the agglutinating character of shopping malls, where the display of books, kindergarten, children’s playground, entertainment palaces, restaurants and, gradually, videos, CDs, DVDs, video games and souvenirs cohabit or are neighbors.  This vibrant, rather bookish North American model for urban living is copied in large measure by other countries like Japan, India, China and Brazil, and, by extension, everywhere else.  The old empires have no choice but to adapt to that hegemonic tendency of a massive leisure offering that ensures the indiscriminate sale of cultural consumer items.”

7.      “The big North American book chains are consequently the epitome of that way of conceiving the distribution and sale of culture that we constantly mark out with the adjective “big.” Because the small chain, the half-dozen bookshops with the same owner and the same brand, may still be capitalized locally, a feature of independent businesses, while the big chains are nearly always transnational conglomerates, where the bookseller has ceased to be simply that, because he has lost that direct – artisanal – relationship with books and customers.  The bookseller is a shop assistant or executive director or buyer or personnel manager.”

8.      “It has been our fate to witness the demise of the paper book, though it is proving so slow perhaps it will never happen at all.”

9.      “In this way, the bookshop becomes a possible metaphor for the Internet:  as on the web, texts occupy a significant but small, limited space in comparison to what is invaded by the visual, and what is so indefinite and empty.  As in cyberspace, where things are always happening, and are mostly invisible, a visitor to these multi-spaced bookshops is conscious that stories are being told in the area of children’s books, that a poet-singer is performing in the cafeteria, that the new-books table or window display has been changed that morning, that a book launch will begin in a moment, that there is a new dessert menu in the restaurant or literary workshops are about to finish their first session.  As in the virtual world, we are witnessing new forms of socializing, social networks, but he bookish variety clings to personal contact, to the fulfilment of the senses, the only thing the Internet cannot offer us.”

10.  “Intellectual pleasure fuses with voluptuous delight. Today’s bookshops are learning more than ever from the success of shops in contemporary art museums where catalogues are only part of what is on offer, and are usually not even the most significant items alongside jewelry, clothes and industrial design pieces.  Strengthened by a minimalist context highlighting the unique facets of every item, objects become a focus of attraction.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. 

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