This morning the fabulous E. Kristin Anderson twittered asking about whether we had gone to any bricks-and-mortar independent “book stars” this weekend. The typo has since been rectified (more’s the pity, I think) but she’s got me thinking hard about those book selling Stars… from my favorite indie, WORD, which was right down the street from me when I lived in Brooklyn, to my first indie (Nicola’s Books of Ann Arbor), to my most recent forays down to Book People since moving to Austin.
The fact of the matter is that I live on the internet. It’s not often that I find myself in a bookstore “to browse”. I already know what’s out there, what’s caught my interest, before I ever make it out the front door. Because my To Be Read pile is already so gargantuan, I’m never in a position where I’m simply “looking for something to read”.
And yet, the brick-and-mortar book stores are still a critical component of my reading/writing/thinking experience, for a number of reasons.
The first, I have to admit, is the readings. I am seriously addicted to those things. Whether it’s readings given by friends of mine, or authors I admire, or even people who’s work I had never heard of, I always have a fabulous time, and come home with plenty of new thoughts to explore. Additionally, there is something about listening to people who’ve put that much time and effort into creating art— just because there was something worth saying, and they happened to be the person who had a grasp on the right way to say it— which just gives me hope for the world and humanity. Art in action is a beautiful thing, and I would be lost without bookstores’ contribution to it.
The second is the “instant fix”. It’s a feature of the bookstore that may well fade with the rise of the e-book, but at the moment, there are still many times when I will run to a bookstore for something, rather than wait for a mailman to deliver it, even if I could find it cheaper online. With WORD, this feature became ridiculously addictive. Their staff is fabulously attentive, even maintaining a dialogue with their patrons throughout the day over twitter. More than once, I requested a special order or reserved a copy of something via twitter or email, and if I had random bookstore-related questions, they were usually first to supply me with an answer. In person, I once made them dig out a book from their Just Arrived boxes before they’d even had a chance to stock it. And then there was that one fateful afternoon when I needed a copy of Mannahatta in 20 minutes or less, and after a quick phone call, I was home again in 17 minutes— including the time I spent chatting with them at the counter.
The last is the “hand sell”. Like I said, I don’t really need to browse. Looking at more covers, realizing that there are more books out there which I could be reading If Only I Had Time… isn’t really helpful to me. What is helpful to me is a dialogue about books. I’ve done my own research, and gotten all I can from the jacket summary, already found out which other authors liked it (or in some cases, have stayed pointedly silent). But that doesn’t necessarily tell me whether or not it’s the right book for me. In order to do that, I need to talk to an expert. Someone who is familiar with the books I’ve already read, who can form judgments about my preferences based on what I say about those books, and who can then be in a position to make an educated guess about what it might not have yet occurred to me to want.
The last time I went into WORD, there were two books I knew I wanted: one of which they were holding for me, the other of which they ended up not having. Yet I still walked out with five books. All of which have been excellent, and only one of which (the one that was on reserve) would I have ever have thought of on my own.
That is what a Book Star does. And that is why I wish to never be without one.