I’ve witnessed four independent bookstore closings in our area. The changing world of publishing and the proliferation of electronic devices have affected bookstores as much or more than the economy. It’s unlikely any business person or investor these days would underwrite the keeping of a tiny independent bookstore open when there is little return. There is nothing I or anyone can do about it unless I were an heiress like Ruth Lilly, who in 2002, gave the Poetry and the Poetry Foundation a staggering $100 million bequest. Such philanthropy would be real news!
It was 1913—one hundred years ago-- in London that Harold Munro opened the doors of his Poetry Bookshop, where Robert Frost and Ezra Pound met for the first time. I can’t help but wonder what that meeting was like. I meet interesting people in bookstores—authors, readers, browsers, poetry lovers, and people who wander in just to stand around or rest a bit. Some are young and in love, holding hands; some are older individuals looking for a special book for a grandchild or friend. Some come to support an author friend at a book signing or to meet a celebrity writer. Some are wanabe writers, but whatever they are or whoever they are, they all appreciate the written word.
Unless you are famous or a celebrity, book signings can be dismal affairs—unless you’ve got a family and a group of friends who attend to support you – but even those events can be stimulating because generally in a bookstore good conversation happens. Novelist Richard Russo stated, “To me bookstores remain places of wonder. Like libraries, they’re the physical manifestation of the world’s longest, most thrilling conversation.”
Russo paid homage to the shop where he fell in love with reading in an essay published in My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop. His “shop” was Alvord & Smith, a small place in Gloversville, NY, and he writes that he doesn’t recall that it was air-conditioned, but that even on hot summer days, it seemed cool. ”His store” sold diaries, stationery, journals, pens, and high-end fountain pens in addition to books. It was there that he determined to become a writer.
May there always be bookstores, where I will see a book and be intrigued enough to purchase it right then and there and not go home and point and click and, as Russo says, “Undermine the next generation of writers and the ones after that.”
When I’m in a foreign country or visiting a nearby city, there’s no more comforting spot for me than to slip into a bookstore where I can collect my thoughts and gather my feelings about the world around me—or maybe even meet somebody named Scott Sprunger or Kevin Beuret who could someday be another Robert Frost or Ezra Pound.