Something about independent bookstores brings out in me that part of my character that is peripatetic in nature. I have used bookstores as touchstones throughout my life and, in no small part, my travels. Books and the places that house them are gateways to a richness of spirit and experience that can't be reduced to a certain sum of money. My local bookstore, Bent Pages, is one such place.
Bent Pages is an easy 25-30 minute walk from my house and is located on one of the main thoroughfares of Houma, Louisiana, a small town about 50 miles west and south of New Orleans. This bookstore has that "feel," that irreverent veneer that any serious bookstore needs to have. A recent post, from one of the owners, announces:
Bent Pages is in need of a few good readers. Applicants must like and be able to read, take abuse ranging from mild to sadistic, and not try to pay with a debit/credit card. If you or someone you know fits this catagory please come by the store and we will check your credentials. Also, we will be closed Monday July 4th, come get your books tomorrow or you'll be sorry.
My love of bookstores has evolved somewhat—I used to be obsessive in my expectations and quite snobbish when it came to booksellers; I wanted everything a certain way. Now, I approach each with an open mind and accepting heart. I’m more forgiving, more patient. Beyond being a sterile big box outlet, it now takes so much more to turn me off when it comes to bookstores. My loves range from the beautifully appointed to the musty, disorganized ramble of banged-together shelves of books organized by size and general appearance.
Take for instance another post on Bent Pages' Facebook page:
Do you have an uncontrollable urge to read? Then stop by the store. Do you know someone with an uncontrollable urge to read? Then force them at gun point to like our page. We won't tell, our secrets follow us to the grave. This week only come by the store and Molly will belittle the customer of your choice, but only if you mention this post.How can you not know that you will somehow enjoy the experience of searching through thousands and thousands of books packed into the overflowing shelves of this wonderful small-town bookstore. Molly Bolden, one of the owners mentioned above, has a well-deserved reputation for not suffering fools gladly, but she is fount of knowledge about all things books. And, like many independent book sellers, this is a full-service outfit.
If books, as Emily Dickinson once wrote, are like frigates, then bookstore are like well protected ports of call. Some for tourists, some strictly business, some for explorers and lovers. Thinking back to stores I have lived near and visited, I have mixed feelings about the independents; although I support them without hesitation. Still, I sometimes wonder whether City Lights has lost some of its original charm? Has the Strand gotten too pretentious even for me? Is Powell’s renovating itself right off my must-visit list? Then again, everyone should visit Shakespeare & Co., The Tattered Cover, and Mona Lisait’s; you must have coffee in Selexyz’s Dominicanan venue, and take time to marvel at the architecture in Lello’s.
These places have that "feel"—that something I can't explain that makes me want to wander through the stacks, lose myself for hours wandering among friends, and—let's face it—take something to accompany me on my walk home.
I find it difficult to articulate what exactly makes a bookstore attractive to me. A knowledgeable staff is a great plus, but an inattentive one I can overlook in certain circumstances. I find big box stores baffling and overwhelming, but then I actually prefer The Coop over Brattle Bookshop down the street—and the reasons are hard to explain, but it has something to do with that "feel."
A recent post for Bent Pages reminds me why I so enjoy visiting this place.
Please b[u]y the book Fallen Superheros for no other reason than I'm in it. I swear you wont regret this purchase.... well maybe a little but you'll get over it eventually.... after years of therapy and a flea dip.At this point in my life I take my books seriously. My bookstores, not so much. I appreciate these gems for what they have as much as for what they don't. We all know there are less expensive and, at times, simpler methods of getting that particular volume we absolutely must have. But for me, if I can't take a walk and get my hands dirty in the process it almost isn't worth the effort.