Monday, May 3, 2010

Support Independent Bookstores!

I just watched this great special on TV about the history of independent bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it got me thinking about what makes these disappearing bookshops worth saving. I think that one of the things people seem to love the most about independent bookshops is the atmosphere, the fellow booklovers who haunt its shelves, and the unique selection of rarer books. Some of my favorite shops are also historical landmarks in their own right, such as the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, where Beat Poets used to hang out, and Kepler’s in Menlo Park, where even the Grateful Dead used to take time out of their day to go and read books. No matter how busy my schedule gets, I like to make the trek to both of these book Meccas as often as I can.

There are of course so many great independent bookstores around the world, from the famous Powell’s Books in Oregon to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris. But you may ask yourself, why go to an independent bookstore nowadays? The Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Waterstones of the world provide me with huge selections. With just a few clicks I can find whatever I want on, and you can still borrow books for free at the good old-fashioned public library. So why the need for independent bookstores?

I know, it’s a loaded question. Why the need for poetry? Why books at all? What do we need art and beauty for in the world anyways? But my fellow booklovers already see the futility in such questions. It’s not something easily explained, nor is the aura of the quintessential independent bookshop.

Despite the rapid modernization of the world and all its changes, I think that there’s still a place for independent bookstores, and a need that they fulfill for the community. Many such shops, even famous ones like Cody’s Books, have gone under in recent years and every year more and more independent bookshops fall by the wayside. So what can you do? Do you have to spend all your hard earned cash to keep these businesses afloat? Of course not. Independent bookshops have always been more than a place of commerce. They provide a place to meet, where likeminded people can discuss and revel in what really matters to them…books! The intellectual freedom and emotional stimulation denied oftentimes by the rest of society whether in work, school, or elsewhere is not only allowed in a bookstore, but is protected, encouraged, and praised.

Of course buying books helps, but I don’t think throwing pennies at the problem is the solution. Independent bookstores are meeting places, gathering nodes where the underground pulse of the book-loving world runs strong. There are lots of easy ways you can help these wonderful establishments survive and even thrive while at the same time enriching your own life. Meet up with friends, have coffee there, trade in some old books (at used stores), or just hang out. Be creative about it! Even if you don’t buy something one day, one of your friends or coworkers you meet up with might. It's a community place, and a bookstore’s well-being is directly tied to the well-being of its local community. So go checkout a famous independent bookstore or find a new hidden gem of a used bookshop somewhere that you haven’t visited before. Look around, and who knows, maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for.