When Dave and I lived in Raleigh at the end of the 1980s, there was a bookshop near our house that I visited almost weekly. I sometimes went in search of some new fiction I’d heard about or seen on the bestseller list, but more often I went looking for nothing in particular. The bookshop was tiny, buried in a strip mall between a hair salon and a One-Hour Martinizing, and yet every time I entered, I seem to find something that I desperately needed even though I hadn’t even known it existed ten minutes before. I don’t keep a lot of books. Mostly I’ve passed them on to friends or family or students, and these days they go into my Little Free Library, but I do have one bookshelf where I keep those few treasured books I can’t part with. The Definitive Kobbe’s Opera Book, The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty, Richard Avedon’s In the American West…all of these I bought over thirty years ago at that little Raleigh bookshop.
In the past couple of decades, those small independent bookstores have mostly disappeared, replaced first by Barnes and Noble and Borders, and then by Amazon. I’ll admit that I order a lot of books from Amazon. I read a review in the New York Times Book Review on Sunday morning, and on Tuesday, the book magically shows up on my doorstep. The closest independent bookstore to my house is Book People, but that means fighting the Austin traffic to get downtown, so often months pass between trips. Last December I went in to buy Christmas gifts and realized that I hadn’t been in Book People since the previous holiday season.
So I was thrilled a few weeks ago to discover on social media that Austin was having a bookstore crawl to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, a day to remind us of the value of independent book stores. I only had the afternoon free, so I talked Mitch into going with me to three of the stores on the list. At Tribe Comics, I bought six copies of Tiny Titans to put in the summer reading tote bags I’m making for Bonkers’ Barking Book Buddies at Blackshear Elementary. At Half-Price Books, I found a copy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which I’ve been wanting to re-read, as well as Whole Grain Vegan Baking (I’ve recently given up dairy and greatly reduced gluten for health reasons). At Book People, I found another book on my list, Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson (the man behind the lynching memorial that just opened last week in Montgomery) and decided to copy Mitch and get Looming Towers by Lawrence Wright. And then on the way to the register, I found a sweet surprise, a book of poems by The Typewriter Rodeo, a group of poets that appears at events around town with their manual typewriters and make up poems on the spot.
So, I’ll look forward to the 3rd Annual Book Crawl in Austin next year, but in the mean time, I’m making a commitment to visit at least one independent book store each month from now until then. Sure, I’ll probably still order from Amazon most Sunday mornings, but I’ll also make sure I don’t miss out on all the books I don’t even know exist but desperately need and will treasure forever.