Do You Shop at Independent #Bookstores?

Saturday May 2nd is Independent Bookstore Day, so I’ve written a short, tongue in cheek piece of fiction, in honour of the experience of small bookstores and keeping them alive. Enjoy!
A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an ind...

A child reading in Brookline Booksmith, an independent bookstore in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been going to the By the Book since I was a child. It’s still run by the Greene twins – two sisters, now in their  seventies, who always wear red lipstick and dress identically in a smart outfit. When I was away at college, I’d buy books from Amazon, but once I came back home, on principle, I refused to feed the beast, even if it cost a little more. By the Book orders anything for me not in stock and it comes within a week.

Last year, By the Book closed for the month of February for renovations. As soon as the Grand re-opening day came, I went into the bookshop and the whole store looked bigger and brighter, with comfy reading chairs at the end of each bookshelf. They’d installed iPads as their new cash registers. I could even have my receipt sent to me by email.

The old smell of musty books was a little less strong, but it became more pungent when I wandered through their second hand book section. I noticed a copy of A Tale of Two Cities, and thought I might reread it. I opened the book and immediately felt light headed. My vision blurred and when I opened my eyes again, I was surrounded by a group of people shouting. I looked around to see what the commotion was and three men and two women in raggedy period costumes were being pulled in a wooden cart through a crowd of people, and oh my goodness, at the edge of the crowd was a guillotine!

Cover scan of a Classics Comics book

Cover scan of a Classics Comics book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went up to the nearest person I could find to ask what was going on but they ignored me as if I wasn’t there. I reached out to the next person and even more disturbingly, my hand went straight through them. I screamed, closed my eyes tight and willed myself to be back in the store.

When I opened my eyes, I was sitting in one of the comfy reading chairs, the book held shakily in my hand. Somehow I’d been transported back to into the period of the book and the French Revolution. I’d been inside the book!! How was this possible? But I knew that’s what had happened. I went up to the counter.

” Excuse me, ” I asked one of the twins. “Has anyone noticed anything strange about this book?”

” Oh Meredith, so nice to see one of our loyal customers enjoying our renovations.” She smiled and moved down the counter to help the next customer.

I could barely think, left the book on the counter and went home.

But I was back the next day and this time I chose Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As soon as I opened the book, my vision blurred and I heard cars honking. I looked around and I was outside a jewellery store in downtown Manhattan, yellow taxis streaming by. Again, I tried to speak to a passerby, but no one seemed to see me, so I willed myself back to the store and came to, sitting again in a reading chair.

I’m not one for fantasy books, so this scenario of being transported into the time and place of a book did not sit well with me. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone what had happened, but over the next couple of weeks, I went into the store and each time I opened a book I had a similar experience. I brought a couple home with me, but the “book travel”, if that’s what you can call it, only happened in the store.

Several weeks passed and my experience repeated itself each time I opened the books in the store and stopped once I willed myself back.  I began to enjoy the “book travel” and each time I went further and further into the scene I had landed in. I also noticed that the comfy reading chairs were all full, customers often having a slightly dazed look about them.

Then I changed jobs and moved to the edge of town to lessen the commute, which made it much more difficult to go to By the Book. So, I reluctantly decided it was time to break with tradition and started buying books through Amazon. It was so easy to just hit one click and I could even buy second hand books too. But after a few months, I really missed “book travelling” and went back to the store relishing the thought of being transported to another world.

Watercolour of Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist by ...

Watercolour of Mr Bumble from Oliver Twist by ‘Kyd’ (Joseph Clayton Clarke) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I opened a copy of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, a risky choice, but I was ready for something more challenging. Nothing happened. Gone Girl, still nothing. I moved back into the second hand section and chose another Dickens book, Oliver Twist. Nothing. I finally went back to A Tale of Two Cities, but no matter how hard I triednothing happened. So I went up to the counter unsure of how I would ask my question.

“Er… Has anything changed with these books?” I asked one of the twins.

She looked at me and said, “Oh, nothing’s changed with the books, Meredith. It’s only our customers loyalty that changes.” Her ruby red lips broadened into a smile as she turned away to help the next customer.

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  1. Loved this post AK. Thanks for this fiction piece in honor of indie bookstores. You know, we used to have 2 or 3 around where I live but now I think there is just one. So thanks for reminding me to celebrate them!
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  2. Oh, I loved this story! Slightly creepy with the red lipstick and emphasis on “loyalty.” Channeling Rod Serling, by chance? Perhaps she could strike a deal with the twins, agree to come in regularly and so regain her privileges for book traveling 🙂
    We don’t have any more independent bookstores in town, just B&N, Books-A-Million. When we first moved here, 25 years ago, there were then only a couple. A new one would pop up now and then but, even when two universities and a community college, they eventually folded. Even Borders left a few years ago. Goodness, when we lived in San Francisco, we had 3 or 4 independent bookstores within walking distance of our apartment. My favorites were the used bookstores where you could find out-of-print treasures, but they are also gone. Sad, very sad.
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    • So glad you liked it Marie – sorry if this is a repeat – last comment has disappeared! I can remember at least half a dozen bookstores in SF myself that have now closed. It really is sad, but thank goodness some have survived. Not sure how the second hand stores manage, but perhaps they sell online too. Just browsing without buying is a pleasure to me.
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  3. I loved this post, and yes, I love old book stores. There’s something about picking up a tangible book and turning the pages we can’t get from a kindle. And I lovedddddddddd Breakfast at Tiffany’s! 🙂
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  4. Great post. I’ve just read a book (not officially out yet) called ‘The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend’ and it’s a great book for book lovers, and those who love bookshops. If you’re ever in the UK, Hay-on-Wye is a fantastic place, a town full of bookshops.

  5. Your bookstore sounds like a very magical place! Our little town has two independent bookstores which are both owned and operated by old Siamese cats!
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  6. What a fun post! I was sad when Barnes and Nobel closed here but to my amazement, a fair sized indie was started and is flourishing downtown. Even better than having to go to the mall for a chain – by far. I look forward later this week to visiting Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara when we go back to visit. The most knowledgeable book staff anywhere. I mourn the passing of these wonderful stores but am so happy for the ones that manage to flourish.
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  7. Aaah, if only we could find a way to have people transport into the story when reading a book. That would totally help the small book stores stay afloat! Love it! My mother used to manage a small bookstore back in the day so I have a real appreciation of the small book store.

    I live in Los Angeles currently and it is almost impossible to find a bookstore there are so few. Such a dying breed.
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  8. I love independent bookstores and try to buy all of my books there. I even have favorite stores in cities where I occasionally visit, like the Tattered Cover in Denver and City Lights in San Francisco. After having a tough decade or so, independent bookstores are said to be doing a little better lately in the U.S.
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    • I also love City Lights in SF – and good for you using them in cities you visit. I do the same actually. Its a good memento of the trip I think. The ones that remain really do go all out for their customers now, so perhaps they are making a bit of a comeback.
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  9. Ha! That’s a good laugh out loud moment at the end. So much for customer loyalty 😉 I know Amazon has cut back on my bookstore trips, but I still enjoy browsing aisles from time to time. It’s fun to discover new reads that way, but I prefer reading on an e-Reader. Crazy, I know…
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    • Glad I managed to make you laugh Jeri. I confess I also buy from Amazon so I wouldn’t be getting the loyalty perks at By the Book either!! But I also patronise our local store which has lots of other stuff going on too – readings and a monthly book group. I really dont enjoy kindle as well as a hardcopy, but do use it occasionally.
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  10. I loved this story. It’s so wonderful to find a good independent book store. I love exploring them and letting the books “transport” me to another place and time.
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  11. I loved reading this AK..what a great ending:) Statistics show that indie bookstores are on the rise! Yep…they are enjoying a bit of a comeback at the moment and possibly because BookAMillion closed and the other chains are closing stores left and right. OR…maybe the indies have a bunch of those chairs in every shop:)
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    • Hope it made you smile Jacquie – & glad you liked it:-) I had not realised Indie book stores are on the rise – thats great news. I have to say its been a long time since I saw a new one opening. But I think local stores – here at least – are much better about stocking Indies, which is only a good thing for everyone.
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  12. Love your story, AK, and also love going to small independent bookstores. When I lived in London it was a delight doing so. For instance found a first edition of one of the William books by Richmal Crompton. Can’t help wondering how long small interesting bookstores will survive outside the big cities? The young generation reads less and if they read they often opt for e-books.
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    • Thanks so much Catarina:-) There are some amazing old bookstores around Charing Cross Rd in London. Although some are so “precious’ it almost makes it intimidating to touch them. But you can get good finds as well, which clearly you did. It is a bit scary to think that e-readers will rule the day. Maybe the younger generation will revert back after a while.
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  13. There is nothing like being pulled into a great book. I like the escapism that reading brings. As a child I always got lost in books – I lived for books!
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    • I think getting lost is a perfect compliment to a vacation ,a s well as downtime on the weekend if you get the opportunity. That said , I was up too late last night unable to put down the latest Sarah Waters. I thinking becoming an avid reader as a child really does become a lifelong habit.
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  14. It seems you can only shop at independent bookstores anymore, consider the many major chains are out of business. I think this is a good thing.
    I live near Albany, NY and there are great independent book stores located here, I fell lucky.

  15. I love independent bookstores. Actually I love browsing in just about any kind of bookstore. Holding a book in my hand to read is something I haven’t yet lost although I find myself reading more and more on my iPad because of the weight of real books when I travel.

    BTW: Thanks for the laugh at the end, it was unexpected and fun.
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    • Glad you enjoyed the chuckle . I had fun writing it, silly as it is:-) I use an iPad too if I read online, but I really do prefer a hard copy of a book. Flicking through pages in a store is still a real joy, though it can be expensive if you get carried away!! Thanks for stopping by Susan:-)
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  16. To think that a child (or an adult for that matter) might lose the opportunity to open a book and be transported away.
    I prefer the smell of books to a fine perfume.
    Thanks A.K. for this captivating read and reminder of the value of books.
    (I wonder if fellow readers ever bump into each other on these adventures, hmmm)
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  17. A.K. – I admit, I do shop online at Amazon almost exclusively now. There are no independent bookstores in my neighborhood anymore. Of course, New York is home to one of the most famous independent bookstores in the country — the Strand. They sell both new and antiquarian books. They sell online, too, although the prices aren’t always as good as Amazon. I love going to the Strand in the Village even though it’s a hike for me. Wandering through the stacks and rubbing shoulders with other book lovers is like a tonic. If the iconic Strand were ever to close — and I don’t think it will — New York wouldn’t be the same. It would be like ripping out the hearts of all the book lovers who can’t live without a trek to the Strand at least a few times a year.

    • Thanks Jeannette. I’ve not yet been to The Strand, but it’s on my list. Amazon is just too convenient to disregard for me also these days, much as I love indie stores. We do what we can, and at least we can enjoy & support them some of the time.
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  18. Loved this. And I believe in the Greene twins – right from the first sentence!
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  19. Oh, that’s simply magical! There’s no better escape than a truly engrossing book, and your By the Book hit on a brilliant customer retention scheme. Kudos to the Greene sisters. I hope they open up a branch in my neighbourhood – I promise to never leave!
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  20. A.K. settles into a chair at By the Book and opens a dog-eared copy of Fahrenheit 451. She immediately feels light-headed and her vision blurs. When she opens her eyes again, she is standing next to Guy Montag in full fireman regalia and with an acetylene torch in his hands.

    Aghast, A.K. says, “No, no, no, Mr. Montag, books are treasures. Come and join me and the Greene sisters, together we can save all the books, all of them!”

    Montag recoils and drops the torch. Turning to a bookshelf, he reaches for a copy of 1984 and opens it and begins to read…
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  21. A.K. I love bookstores of all kinds, have ever since I was a child. Indie book stores, used book stores,Indigo and Chapters, it’s all the same – the browsing and picking up a book and reading the flyleaf. I do get pulled into books I’m reading but not to the same extent as your heroine – love the loyalty ending.
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  22. Wonderful post. I have this print that I just love of an author writing away as his fictional characters are standing behind him giving him direction on how to treat them – it’s just marvelous! I am sorry to say we have no independent bookstores in Maui. The one and only book store we have is a chain store and it’s on the other end of the island so – for better or worse – I buy all my books from Amazon. Thanks for the inspiration!
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    • Wow – your print sounds fantastic. I have to say I don’t feel my characters behind, but more I am behind them trying to see what they will do. How awful not to have one bookstore on the island. I too shop on Amazon, and I guess we have to be grateful that books are made so readily available by it.Thanks so much for stopping by:-)
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  23. One of the first things I noticed when I moved from Chicago to San Francisco was the amount of independent book stores; Chicago ran out of those a long time ago. I visit Green Apple when ever I am in that neighborhood and like you say, you can smell the pages and feel the stories. Your little story was a great way to remind people of what is important and that the beast does not always need to be fed.
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  24. We don’t seem to have many used bookstores anymore. Maybe it is my cheapskate nature but that is how I grew up buying books. We would gather up a bunch of the old paperbacks and such that we had read out and take them to the used bookstore and get a trade in. This was great for finding books to complete collections and such. The crazy thing is, I never really understood the idea of a print run for a long time because I never used to buy new books, never really mattered to me how long books would stay on the shelves at places like Barnes and Noble.

    Amazon fills that void for me most of the time because I can find old stuff that is no longer in print. Of course, I like to visit the Friends of the Library bookstore at one of the libraries near me and my town library where my mother works has a huge book sale every year. Because my mother works there, I get to step inside a day early or so when they are setting the sale up and search through all the books for rare finds.
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  25. This was fun to read. There are a few bookstores in my area. I just found shopping at these bookstores much more rewarding than anything else. You never know what you will find and that is why it is an adventure.