For many of people, even those who don’t grow up to be avid or regular readers, books were a magical and beloved part of childhood, and I was certainly no exception. Most of my reading material was borrowed from the local library, but those books were ultimately ephemeral. They wouldn’t be re-read, worn, memorized, and internalized the way my personal collection was. I used to be quite the collector as a kid, and I know I’ll be dating myself by saying I was obsessed with My Little Pony, Troll dolls, and Beanie Babies in turn. I received a new special edition Holiday Barbie each year, and never opened the boxes. My bedroom shelves housed a multitude of collections, and prized among them were my many many Babysitters Club books and Garfield comics. I treasured the days when, for some kind of reward (or sometimes for no reason at all) I was allowed to enter the hallowed bookstore and acquire a new volume from my favorite series.
I grew out of most of my collecting, but the allure of bookstores has never eluded me. I don’t consider a vacation properly enjoyed unless I’ve perused a local indie. Like the trip my mom and I took to Portland four years ago when we both visited Powell’s for the first time and I predictably exercised no self-control. She carried them around the city in a backpack all day despite my repeated attempts to take turns- seven books is no paltry load. Or the next time I went to Portland and was only allotted 15 minutes in Powell’s by the rest of the group, but still managed to buy two books. Or the time in New York when I stumbled upon Three Lives and Company, possibly the most perfectly curated tiny bookstore in the world, and one of the men working that day told me the rest of his family all lived in Bellingham. Or the trip to Victoria where I spent way too long in Munro’s Books, determined to find something I wouldn’t be able to get easily in the states, and ended up with Kateri Lanthier’s spectacular poetry collection Siren, which to this day makes me feel a big smug because it’s still not available outside Canada.
It’s every bookworm’s dream, and it certainly was mine, to work in an Independent Bookstore. To be one of the gatekeepers of your community’s literary taste is an honor, privilege, and sometimes burden (yes, I did read over 100 books last year. No, I haven’t read that bestseller/your book group book/your favorite author/the one you heard about on NPR/the memoir by the local author who has an event here tonight. Yes, I’ve been meaning to get to it/it’s on my list/I have it at home). And we are particularly lucky in Bellingham to have such an extensive, beloved, community-oriented, and thriving indie in Village Books. I can tell you, as an employee of eight years, that like any business there are frustrations and shortcomings, but there is also passion, hard work, and a great sense of the gravity our jobs entail. What Village Books is goes beyond what all the puzzle pieces, all the the day-to-day details and dreams, all the events and newsletters and smiles and dog treats, and all the google searches for an elusive title the customer can’t quite remember should logically add up to. What we do every day is a lot, much more than the average customer likely realizes. But what we are given back, the effect of this institution on our community, is many times greater than we can individually understand. Each and every one of you reading this has a story, a memory, an unquantifiable debt to us, or your own hometown bookstore, that actually has little to do with a building on a corner, but everything to do with the opportunity to access all those beautiful, heartbreaking, inspiring, hilarious, terrifying, edifying, occasionally life-changing books. On April 27th, Independent Bookstore Day is not about marketing, though we’re trying very hard to get the word out, or sales, though we hope you will choose to support us by purchasing a book or two. It’s a party, in every sense of the word. You are our valued guests, and we invite you to share in the absolute miracle that bookstores exist, and that you continue to give us the chance to put books in your hands (and hopefully don’t mind when we get WAY TOO EXCITED to tell you about the awesome series you’re going to love and must read immediately, as in sit down in this chair right now and start this very moment). There is no better moment as a bookseller than seeing a customer walk up to the register with a title we love, and there is no better feeling as a customer than discovering something you might never have found on your own. I’ve been on both sides, and let me tell you, those are wonders worth celebrating.
“If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”
― Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books
Written by Stephanie Douglas, Bookseller @ Village Books in Fairhaven