The Joy of Growing up in a Bookstore

Growing up, Bookstores were as close to magic as I could get. They were like Christmas year round. It didn’t matter when I went, like on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t sleep the night before imagining what I might find. What magical world I’d discover to visit. Who I might become in the pages of my newest book. That pent up excitement would last the entire drive to whichever bookstore we were heading for.

The best part, well aside from getting a book, was the bookstores were small, and all locally owned. That meant we were all on a first name basis. The owners knew us, and we knew them. They also knew who and what we read. This was before the time of big chain bookstores. The whole process of buying a book was interpersonal. It wasn’t just new booksellers but used bookstores. Even then, if you wanted to read books from the early part of the Twenty Century, a used bookstore was the only place you could find the authors who most readers have never head of today. No, Amazon or Ebay to hit up. Sorry folks, these were the olden days.

It was at used bookstores, I discovered Burroughs, Howard, Asimov, McCaffrey. The problem with small bookstores even then was they didn’t have room for everything. Sad thing is the problem now extends to big chain bookstores. It feels like if an author isn’t on some important best seller list, you will never find them on a shelf. Used bookstores were the home to just about everything, including comic books. With an allowance of only a couple bucks, I could walk in and leave with two books and a nice stack of comics. And, again, the owner recognized us. You could stand around and talk books without the hassle of someone saying anything. The owners were readers and usually had an opinion to share on authors, books, and what you might like.

In today’s bookstores you’re lucky to find someone to help you find a book, let alone express an opinion on books. Most of the time if they can do either, it sounds like they’re giving you a retread review from a company newsletter. I know that might sound harsh, but what one of us hasn’t gone into a bookstore and been blinded by racks of books either inspiring a New Major Motion Picture or serialized books inspired by a movie or television show. Where are the hidden gems that can truly inspire the imagination any more?

I will freely admit, I do read books off the bestseller list. Some I started reading before they hit the list and some I’d picked up based on what someone has said. It takes a lot for me to trust opinions expressed by a lot of people based on them watching the movie. Sadly, that’s mainly what you get. Oh, I saw the movie so the book must be great. Sure, they’re probably right, but still. The sole exception to that statement might be Lord of the Rings. Those movies are awesome, almost as awesome as the books. Why? Because you can tell Peter Jackson read the books and loved them enough to keep more than just the heart of the books in the motion picture. Very few movies come that close. I’m going to just say at this point Beautiful Creatures was such a disappointment to me, I walked out of the theater. So, if you’ve seen the movie and loved it. Trust me, the book will freaking blow you away!

But, I’ve digressed. Back to bookstores. I worry about the future of reading. When I go into the local bookstore giant, I seldom see children looking at books. No, I see them in the toy department hawking movie and cartoon tie-in toys, while their parents shop for ‘How To’ and ‘Self Help’ books. Those sections seem to grow while Science Fiction and Fantasy seem to have become a small two rack aisle. Even Romance has become a dwindling section. Sure, that might have something to do with the boom in eBooks, but I started to notice the trend long before Kindle and Nook became the new big thing. Gone are the days when bookstores were small houses of magic. They smelled of decaying newsprint and fading ink. My friends that is the smell of nirvana. Now, you smell coffee or designer scented candles and lose the book smell altogether.

So if the days of the personal touch are gone, where can you find the worlds inside a book cover that don’t read like every other book on the shelf? Even when something original does make it into the public reading consciousness, companies instantly throw out a hundred books just like it. You don’t get a chance to truly enjoy the breath of fresh air before being overwhelmed by a flood of the newest same old same old.

Back in the day, authors were original and unique. You had to be to get the attention of discerning readers. Sure, everyone wanted to be Tolkien, but authors knew better than to try. Instead, they came up with their own worlds, their own take on fantasy. Same with Science Fiction. From the middle part of the last century we got, Herbert’s Dune, Heinlein’s Future History, Asimov’s I, Robot, among other masterpieces, Bradbury’s, just Bradbury’s genius, McCaffrey’s Pern, Clarke’s Rama, Niven’s Engineers and the Mote in God’s Eye. Fantasy gave us Leiber’s Lankhmar, Howard’s Cimmeria, Moorcock’s Elric and the Eternal Warrior, Asprin’s, Myth Adventures and Thieves World, Stasheff’s Warlock, Springer’s Book of Isle series. These are but some of the books that inspired my young imagination to thirst for something new and different. The great thing is most of these authors and their works became mine because of a man or woman who didn’t get a check from a huge corporation, but from loving books enough to open not only a store to sell them but from sharing their love of reading with others.

Now, Science Fiction and Fantasy are lumped together as one genre instead of the glorious two they deserve. In fifty years, will we even remember half the authors making a buzz today? Sure, some of them, but most will sadly be forgotten.

I’m going to suggest this, not because I am a writer who is labeled as an Indie or small press author, but because I AM a writer labeled those things. Instead, of picking up the latest big thing next time you check out a book, go beyond what people expect you to read. Read what other readers want you to read. Want you to read so they can keep on reading their favorite authors because others see the magic in them. Support small independent press authors by giving them a shot at your hard earned money. Why? Because they’re writing that something new and original the print publishing houses are afraid to take a chance on, because instead of judging literature on its merits, they’re judging it on sales margins, growth charts and market trends.

I’m going to take a chance here, and invite you who are reading this to share your favorite authors who people might not know about. Share your love of reading with others. For just this once, let my blog be your locally owned bookstore, and you be the person who gives someone the gift of reading something truly new and amazing.

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7 thoughts on “The Joy of Growing up in a Bookstore

  1. I remember this old library when I was young – it was my first experience falling in love with reading. The librarian, Miss Jewel, just looked like a librarian should. The children’s section was in a half basement in a huge rock building with vines growing up the outside wall. I loved going there and one of the reasons was that book smell. I think places like that stay with you and can keep you going back for more books. It’s like what you said about the personal touch and the store owner caring that you are reading. Great post!

  2. Just to let everyone reading know, those two women are two hidden gems worth checking out on Amazon.

  3. K.R. Jordan says:

    Most of the authors I’ve read were recommended to me by my brother, Carlos. He gave me my first Tolkien, Marquez, Heinlein. My favorite authors include Dumas, du Maurier, Heinlein, Crichton, McCarthy, Coelho. Most of those are classic authors that people rarely read anymore. Which is ridiculous. Indie authors that I enjoy are J.T. Lewis, Scott Prussing and JMorgan among others.

    If you’re not afraid to read middle school, YA you should try Brian Jacques! He remains my favorite for middle school/YA.

    Great blog, J! Ask me about being lost in the branches of a tree sometime, kay?

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