Jeremy Mercer sounds a call to arms to all real book lovers to rally and keep the independent bookseller alive
Saturday December 8, 2007
Ever since I crossed the threshold of George Whitman's bonkers bookshop Shakespeare and Company in
As a rule with few exceptions, these establishments nurture local authors and provide a hub for bibliophiles. Although they may not be the place to get the steepest discount on Harry Potter, you are far more likely to find absorbing conversation, obscure reading matter, and even a stray friend or lover while wandering among their shelves. These stores, by some magic alchemy, actually transcend commerce and become communities. As Paul Collins put it in Sixpence House, his ode to the booksellers of Hay-on-Wye, the more time you spend in such places, "the more you suspect that what you are looking at is a sort of personal library, a living room with a cash register."
Even with the onslaught of online and big box booksellers, I once believed that independents would survive if they were financially creative and catered to their local readers. You know, sell shortbread on the side or offer writing workshops, that sort of thing. Sure, there were casualties, such as the closing of Compendium in
Then there was an email recently from author Sparkle Hayter announcing that Black Orchid, one of the finer independents in
It was that proverbial straw and I realized that we, the habitués of these bookshops, must do more to protect the institutions we claim to love. This is not to say we should boycott the large chains, for selling books in any manner is noble work. Rather, we must, if you will, 'procott' the independents and dedicate our book budget to a precious store of our choosing.
It will not be an easy task. It is ridiculously convenient to order that hard-to-find book on Amazon or to nip into the airport boutique and snap up the newest literary sensations at fire sale prices. But convenience be damned. We must mould ourselves after the magnificent Helene Hanff, the New York City book lover who maintained 20 years of correspondence and put up with interminable frustrations just to buy from London bookshop Marks & Co. "You dizzy me, rushing Leigh Hunt and the Vulgate over here whizzbang like that," she lovingly sniped in one of the letters that make up her fact-based novel 84, Charing Cross Road. "You probably don't realise it, but it's hardly more than two years since I ordered them."
In the spirit of Ms Hanff, I hereby vow to do my part. Lacking a decent English bookshop in my home city of
It is incumbent upon us to go to such lengths to help those foolhardy dreamers who still insist on opening bookshops. Just look around: on the Greek
· Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer (