Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I am a bookstore.

I've told this story before, but here it is:  When I was in grade school, a teacher sent us home with instructions to count how many books we had in the house.

So I spent all weekend counting.  First the large attic that was filled with books, stacked to the ceiling, then the living room, lined by bookshelves, then each bedroom, each of which had bookshelves, then the kitchen where cookbooks and gardening books lined the upper walls, then the bathrooms (yes, the bathrooms) then inside the closets, then in the basement in boxes, and...well, you get the picture.

The teacher looked at me when I gave her the number -- "No, I meant count books."

I remember being speechless, and the dawning look of amazement on the teacher's face when she realized I meant it.

In case you think I'm exaggerating, I have to tell you that Linda and I own a thriving used bookstore that was stocked in the beginning, in the main, with those very same books.

What the result of all these books surrounding me was, I read a whole bunch of books.  Not only that, I read every kind of book. Fiction, non-fiction, classics, the best-sellers of the day, and every kind of genre.

I remember thinking when I was about sixteen years old that I was probably being silly reading a book about the crusades, followed up by a book about gladiators, followed up by Ann of Green Gables, followed up by The Naked Ape, then Exodus, and so on and so forth.

No real rhyme or reason.  Just whatever caught my fancy.

I didn't know what a hoarder was back then -- so I didn't realize my dad was a hoarder and books were part of his syndrome.  But thank goodness it was.

My dad was probably also a genius, and had an incredible trove of knowledge, and had read more books than anyone alive.  I thought, perhaps, I would someday catch up.  So I started gathering "trivia" so that when he questioned me, he couldn't stump me.

I never did catch up.  (I'm no genius.) But by then the habit of gathering knowledge for knowledge sake was ingrained.  Superficial knowledge, in many ways, knowing a title or and author for no other reason than to know it.

I remember walking into his room once.   As usual he had a pile of books near his bed (I mean piles of books stacked from the floor...)  There was an interesting cover.  "What's this?"

"Oh, that's kind of fun...you might enjoy it."

It was the Hobbit, and my life has never been the same since.

I read once that writer's have a couple of common characteristics -- that they read voraciously, and that there was a period in their life where they were incapacitated for some reason and were forced to do nothing but read.  What with my natural inclination and my years of depression (and agoraphobia) I did both.

I've read so much, that even if I haven't read a book, I often know what it is and what it is about.  For enjoyment I read the New York Times Book Review from cover to cover.  Not because I think I'll ever read all those books, but because I like knowing what they are.

Anyway, when it came time to include carrying new books in my store, I started out just getting those books that I'd read and loved and/or knew about.  I figured I'd start there, and then add, you know, bestsellers and books I hadn't heard of.

Thing is, my budget has never been as big as my experience.  I've been buying books I'm personally knowledgeable about mostly since the beginning, and my budget has never stretched as far as my knowledge.

That is, there are always other books I'd like to bring in that my budget can't allow.  I'm beginning to realize that I could probably fill a store just with my own tastes and knowledge, never referring to anything else.

Which in essence, makes my store -- well, me.

Not entirely, I admit.  I do buy lots of books I haven't read.  Either because they are on sale or because they are the new hot thing and they fit into my parameters of what I think I probably would like.

Which still reflects my tastes, if you will.

I don't know if I could do a bookstore that was dedicated to nothing but books.  Pegasus Books is still only 1/4th books.

But I think I probably could, with a few fill-in's here and there.

This is what independent bookstores do.  I believe the best bookstores try to indulge the owner's idiosyncratic taste, while at the same time trying to fulfill the customers needs.  It is where those two things meet that make a independent bookstore a unique experience.

And I think it's turning out that there are enough people in the world that appreciate that to keep bookstores around.

1 comment:

P. J. Grath said...

Yes, yes, yes! Idiosyncratic, not corporate! My bookshop is in a small village in northern Michigan, and I'm always tickled when, as happened again last week, someone from a big city (last week it was Philadelphia) compliments me on my collection, recognizing it as such. More power to you! To us!