Afternoon at the Bookstore

Lesendes Mädchen (Reading Girl), by Gemälde von Charles Edward Perugini

In a somewhat tedious afternoon, I decided to go to a local bookstore, Powell’s, an independent bookstore famous for its block-long store. In fact, it’s the largest independent bookstore in the U.S. My decision came from the fact that the bookstore — not Powell’s, but any bookstore — is like a second home. It’s where I feel comfortable. To get a book, read a few pages and sit down with it for a few moments if you really appreciate the writing. It’s an introspective moment I was missing. As I left after two hours, I finally realized — I hadn’t had this experience in so long.

My trip quickly developed into a brief shopping spree. It’s hard for me to get these consumerist desires, but it’s simply part of the bookstore experience. You’re immersed in an environment of information, literature and great pieces of work. Plus, the marketing strategies are what make me love a bookstore more than a library, in fact — aside from the fact that you can take your own book home without having to return it. The books are simply there for anyone to see, while in a library it becomes more difficult to browse books without having a specific one in mind.

But what shocked me most about this afternoon at the bookstore was that going to bookstores had always been part of my life. Since a little girl I would go with my father and spend hours going through books until I finally chose the one I would devour in the next weeks. And he would support this habit, since he himself would always take home more books than he perhaps should. Then, as I got older, it became a gathering place to meet friends, even if it were a meeting place before or after going to the cinema, or simply to meet and spend a few hours there talking.

And yet, to my surprise, my suspicions were wrong. While I started mourning the death of the culture of bookstores because Amazon has cheaper prices that you can take advantage of from the comfort of your home, independent bookstores are actually thriving in a landscape of diversity. For some reason, the number of independent bookstores in the United States is increasing, according to the American Booksellers Association.

Amazon is still their most challenging competitor. Nonetheless, their personality, per se, is what is keeping them alive. The curation involved, the community-based approach, the small things, the fact that you can go to readings, that you can discuss a piece of work with friends makes people want to be part of the bookstore culture. And, perhaps, on a more personal level, the same reason I would frequent them so often is, among the other reasons, what is keeping them alive and doing so well.