Signs of Hope
I just returned home to Asia, after a two week sojourn in the United States. Needless to say, I have many concerns about what’s going on in my native country these days. Missile strikes and the mother of all bombs do not leave me feeling sanguine.
One aspect of my trip made me smile, however. In my wanderings through New England and New York, I visited a number of independent bookstores. I found them to be thriving, despite the influence of the eight hundred pound e-commerce gorilla we authors love to hate.
In Exeter, New Hampshire, we spent a happy half hour browsing at the Water Street Bookstore (http://www.waterstreetbooks.com/). Housed in a hundred year old building overlooking the tumultuous water of an old mill canal, this shop highlights the work of local authors. Though it was quite early on a Saturday morning, we were far from the only customers. I dawdled in the fiction section, while my DH perused the history table. I particularly liked the handwritten review quotes and blurb snippets posted on brightly colored paper beneath many of the volumes, which made it possible to get a feeling for a book without even picking it up from the shelves. Of course, there’s a deep pleasure to be found in handling a physical book—admiring the cover, flipping through the pages, breathing in the scent of fresh ink.
Though we really didn’t have room in our luggage, I couldn’t resist purchasing a copy of Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests, which has been on my to-read list for a long time. It was the least I could do. After all, the shop not only boosted our spirits but also gave us a welcome respite from the cold April wind.
A few days later, we dropped in to The Bookstore of Gloucester, one of two indie bookshops on the picturesque main street of that historic fishing city, to join locals and tourists browsing there. This store specializes in books on maritime topics. I was very tempted by a volume about the great Boston molasses flood of 1919 but this time I managed to keep my wallet in my pocket.
Our voyage concluded in New York City. For us, no trip to the Big Apple is complete without at least a brief stop at the Strand. Three floors—reportedly, eighteen miles!—of books await you at this marvelous landmark.
I wandered dreamily among the stacked tables, noting titles and authors I’d never heard of, as well as many old favorites. I found it comforting, even uplifting, to happen on brand new editions of The Moonstone, Rebecca, and She. Thousands of new books may be published daily, but they don’t necessarily erase previously existing titles. They just add to the world’s literary richness.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, the Strand was packed. It was actually a bit difficult to make my way through the crowds to the cashier. Yes, even though our suitcases were stuffed full, locked, strapped and waiting to be collected at the hotel, we still purchased a couple of titles—new offerings from Alice Hoffman and Jonathan Lethem. Considering how much we paid to get to the U.S. in the first place, we figured we should take advantage of the opportunity!
I know many brick and mortar bookstores are struggling these days. Still, it’s clear that some are thriving, nurtured by their communities, welcoming those of us who love the written word. In these dark times, they are oases of light. Maybe I’m naive, but bookstores still give me reason to hope for humanity.
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