Bookshop Love: Books about Bookshops

February 26, 2013

Bookshop Girl

Don’t you just adore a good book shop? Maybe it’s a familiar favourite or a newfound discovery on your travels but wherever it be, a book-filled emporium always brings instant comfort and a whiff of possibility. The best ones are oozing with charm and characters (and not just in the pages!) along with the tempting titles.

With bookstores treading turbulent waters of late, there seems to be a wave of sentimental tributes populating the shelves. Here are a few I think look entertaining:

My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate their Favourite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop by Ronald Rice

This is a collection of odes to bookstores by writers who’ve formed precious relationships with certain shops. Library Journal describes it this way:

This is more than just a celebration, more than just a compendium of bookstore kudos. This is like each of your favorite writers (84 of them!) penning a love letter to their favorite bookstore. Names you may recognize include Dave Eggers, Louise Erdrich, Francine Prose, Lisa See, and Simon Winchester. Editor Rice, a publishing professional, has recruited new pieces that illuminate the quirks and many intangibles that make a great bookstore. From the owner who will trek across town to help out at a library signing, to the fierceness with which some owners protect their customers’ privacy, to the overall comfort of stepping into a world that you just know is full of compatriots, the beautiful stories in these pages tell of those things that make any neighborhood bookstore great.

VERDICT: There are other collections that focus on bookstores… but this one is a personal peek into the hearts of the contributing writers as well as into the bookstores they love. Sure to please any bibliophile, even if borrowed from the library!

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History by Lewis Buzbee

Now this book about bookshops actually inspired a new shop to name itself The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop! From the author, Lewis Buzbee:

“I have always and ever been a lover of books and bookstores, and for over 20 years worked as a bookseller. This book is a memoir of my time in bookstores, but also a history of bookselling and publishing, from the great library at Alexandria to today’s City Lights. Mostly, though, the book is meant as a full-on celebration of this common but vital place. If you love the feel of walking into a bookstore and the promise those stacks and shelves hold, well, I’ve got a book for you.” 

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A memoir of friendship, community, and the uncommon pleasure of a good book by Wendy Welch

Adriana Trigiani fans among you will be familiar with Big Stone Gap. It’s time to revisit this charming Virginian town in memoir rather than fictional form.

“Wendy Welch’s memoir, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, is a delight. Starting a used bookstore in a small Appalachian town during the decline-of-the-book era may seem like rank folly, but the project—and the book—turn out to be anything but foolish. With warmth and humor, Welch details the small successes and large missteps along the path to finding a place in a community. She shows that, even in the age of the e-reader, there is hope for books and those who love them, and that reading and bookstores still perform an important function in civic life. Her clear prose sparkles with personality in this heartening tale of the perils and rewards of following one’s dream.” –Thomas C. Foster, author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell

Well, this one is likely just as it sounds. Jen Campbell, a bookseller in the UK, began to compile her own list of “weird things said” and then collected a few more from commiserating fellow booksellers. The results have appeared on her blog and in this book. A second version (More Weird Things …) is due for release in the coming months. Here is one of my favourite exchanges –  more of the charming than weird:

Young boy: You should put a basement in your bookshop.
Me: You think so?
Young boy: Yeah. And then you could keep a dragon in it, and he could look after all the books for you when you’re not here.
Me: That’s a pretty cool idea. Dragons breathe fire, though. Do you think he might accidentally burn the books?
Young boy: He might, but you could get one who’d passed a test in bookshop-guarding. Then you’d be ok.
Me: …You know, I think you’re on to something there.

One Response to “Bookshop Love: Books about Bookshops”

  1. Susan Says:

    This article appeared in March 5th, 2013 edition of The Huffington Post (written by Allison Hill) and seemed a good fit with our Bookstore Books tribute.

    “I was working in the bookstore late one evening when a customer asked for me. “I’m looking for a book,” he said, “and I saw your staff picks around the store and thought you might be able to help me.” I asked him what kind of book he was looking for. He paused for a moment, then his voice caught and it seemed like he might start crying: “I’m looking for a book that will change my life.”

    In 20 years of bookselling, I’ve had customers share surprisingly intimate details of their lives with me. A woman in her late 50s asked me for books on relationships, but after I walked her to the section, she started crying and confided the story of her daughter’s marriage to an abusive man, and how she needed a book that could save her. A well-dressed couple, him in a suit and her in a wrap dress, came in over the holidays and asked me for books to give a friend who was just diagnosed with terminal cancer. They had tried searching on Amazon, but the titles that came up were about the mechanics of how to survive, not the particular poetry of living with dying. More than once someone has asked me for a good novel, “something that will make me laugh,” only to admit once I’d found a book for them, that they needed something funny to distract them from some trauma or drama that they then proceeded to share with me. A hipster asked me for books on personal finances; she was determined to begin the long crawl out of a deep debt. A famous actor admitted his stage fright and asked for a copy of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. A young woman asked me for books on recovering from loss; she had recently lost a child…

    In the wake of Internet competition, bookstores have been feeling like publisher showcases and promoting ourselves as literary curators. But our true value may be as basic as this: often people come to us simply to talk to another human being. In a world that is more and more automated, computerized, web-based, sometimes, someone just wants to tell their story to another human being, feel like someone heard them, and take away hope that things will change — hope in the form of a book.

    I walked with the customer downstairs and we went through my staff picks that he had seen earlier: Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, A Woman’s Worth, The Gift of Fear. At various points these books had all shifted my perspective, changed my way of thinking, even saved my life one could say. Diet for a Small Planet inspired my conversion to vegetarianism when I was 18. The Comfort Trap helped me bring necessary closure to my 10-year marriage. Wherever You Go, There You Are introduced me to meditation and a new mindful approach to my life. As Thoreau wrote, “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”

    These recent years have marked a new era for all of us, one full of changes. And for many people, those changes felt dramatic and alarmingly sudden. But they were years in the making, the results of hundreds of decisions we all made every single day: who we voted for, who we trusted, where we shopped, where we didn’t shop, what we chose to not pay attention to, and so on. I’m not saying the global economic meltdown is our fault, but I am suggesting that perhaps right now we are making choices every day that will influence our future. A decision to save $6.00 on Amazon, multiplied by thousands of customers every day, means that your local bookstore, the place where you hang out, meet friends, met your partner, or found the book that changed your life, may not be there next year…

    But for now, many of us brick and mortar booksellers are still here, committed to what I believe is a noble pursuit: putting the right book in the right person’s hands. Tonight when I left work there were 30 people lined up for the grilled cheese food truck in our parking lot. There were another 40 people in our event space to hear a first-time author read. There were 10 members of a book club discussing a new novel, and another dozen folks in our coffee shop, most of them reading or writing. A family in the children’s department was reading picture books together, and another 15 people quietly browsed the bookshelves. It is in these moments that I am awed by the role a bookstore plays in a community, a feeling made even more awesome by the realization that today we sold 1,087 books, any one of which could change someone’s life.”

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