A couple of weeks ago, I was crashing and my beloved knew it.  He suggested we take Martin Luther King day off and go to Denver–wander through the new Ikea store to see if we might find some storage for our basement, maybe.

More importantly, we would go hang out at The Tattered Cover bookstore.  As Christopher Robin wisely understood, I needed a good long amble through the slightly dusty-smelling aisles of a bookstore with chairs and obscure texts on things like the 1918 flu (one of my current obsessions) and ordinary ones like how to garden year round.

I am a writer. I am a reader. These places are to me like blood to a vampire.

I felt better just walking in. All those silent, noisy books, all the way to the ceiling.  All those magazines about every geeky interest in the universe.  All those tags telling me why I might like this book and that one.  I wanted to savor the upcoming pleasures, so we ate bowls of soup and drank some tea, sitting in the corner just looking at all the possibilities.  I felt overcome with pleasure that I am a writer, and took a picture to remember that I am, that this is great stuff, that books are more than commerce, way way way more, and it really was the only life I wanted and I have it.

That was even before going to actually look at books.

These are the sections I checked out: the magazines, including the juicy European fashion rags. Food Essays.  The “new and recommended” section.  Science fiction and fantasy, where I lingered with the second volume of Connie Willis’s award winning World War II duet, but I haven’t read the first one even though I have it, so I put it back.   I wandered through history: medieval, European, World War II and World War I and African American soldiers in WWII.  Flu. Fiction, gardens, Indian writing. Memoirs.

I bought Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals because there is a vegan in my unfolding novel. I bought a book on gardening year-round because I’m dying for spring and plants and seeds.  I bought a memoir I kept seeing around, Poser, by Claire Dederer.  I’d been suspicious because the American yogi movement can get downright competitive and that’s weird, but the first chapter revealed that she’s a funny, self-deprecating person grappling with the need to be perfect and a mother and all kinds of other things.  She’s a western native (always a big plus with me), a Seattleite, and also lived for awhile in Boulder, at the Chautauqua center, which I love. (Of course, now she lives on Bainbridge Island, with all the other writers in America who don’t live in Brooklyn, but that’s another topic.)

Two hours, three books, endless browsing.  I was like a car filled with gas by the time I left, all my reader/writer centers charged up and ready to go.  I remembered that there are thousands of ideas and subjects to read and write about, a zillion ways to do it, a billion experiences I can have simply by picking up a book and cracking it open and being willing to go forth to….anywhere.

The very sad part of this story is that I had to drive 70 miles to get there.  I live in a town of a half-million people and there are no indie bookstores left.  There used to be two, downtown on the park, but they’re both gone.  Black Cat Books still lives on in Manitou Springs, but it is a much smaller place, more focused.  I still love to wander there, but it doesn’t give me that excessive sense of delighted overwhelm that I get by going to the Tattered Cover.

And I’m really afraid these stores might be disappearing, that in five years, this experience will not be available to me, much less for our grandchildren. So what can we do?



Here are some thing I was brainstorming:  what if there was a Twitter campaign like #Fridayreads?  Only, it could be every third weekend #indieweekend.  Or something.  (Maybe something like this exists already and I don’t know about it.  If so, please correct me in the comments.)  Maybe all of us who love these stores would then make a concerted effort to visit them.  Buy books there.  Support them online.

I am not saying I hate the chain stores.   I don’t.  I am an equal opportunity bookstore slut, ready to hang out anytime, anywhere.  But I am very afraid that the changes in our world are going to close those big, rambling, beautiful bookstores we all grew up with.

As I left the Tattered Cover last week, my arms full of books, my heart and soul renewed, I thought of the Chinook and The Four Corners bookstores in Colorado Springs, both lost to me now.  I wondered what I could do to save the remaining indies.  What action can I personally take?

This is one.  I’m writing this column.  I’m committing to go to Denver more often to support the Tattered Cover (and buy things from them online).  I can try to organize something like #indieweekends on Twitter or find somebody who is really good at organizing to do it for me (more likely). When I visit other cities, I’ll go to those indie bookstores and buy from them, too.  (Oh, woe is me!)

You are a writer, too, or you wouldn’t be here. What can you do to support your local bookstores?  What ideas do you have?  The power is in our hands. Let’s use it.


About Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life, which landed her in the Hall of Fame. Her latest novel, The All You Can Dream Buffet has just been released by Bantam Books in March. A complete backlist is available here.