In case you weren’t aware, April 27 is a national holiday: it’s Independent Bookstore Day. Only five years old, you might not have heard of it and that’s okay… because you have now! What could be more exciting than discovering we have a new holiday to bedazzle on our calendars?
In my humble opinion, we don’t have enough true holidays. I.e. Unadorned celebrations without the stress of gift giving, event planning, cooking complicated meals, decorating, and contending with the in-laws. Too often, holidays don’t feel like the definition of the word and more like its antithesis. So here I present one day that is entirely, wholeheartedly, unequivocally designed for a communal book lovers’ jamboree. And that, my friends, is not to be missed, particularly by our kind—writers and readers.
Don’t be fooled by the facades of social media, we are living in an age of community. The big and little main streets of America are being reinvigorated by their citizens’ commitment to supporting one another and thriving despite all obstacles against our diverse democracy. No place is this more apparent than with booksellers. I travel from coast to coast doing book events, and it never fails that at the heart of each city is an independent bookstore.
For nearly a decade, I lived in El Paso, a beautiful city with wonderful readers but no independent bookstore. I watched as friends from across the country shared their photos, events, interviews, and most significantly, their memories with independent bookstore staffs, patrons, and fellow authors. The dynamic relationship between these people was more than professionalism. They were a book family committed to strengthening the bonds of their literary village. You know the saying, It takes a village to raise a child? Well, I argue it’s even truer written, It takes a book village to raise a person.
The minute I planted roots in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I went in search of that village. For me, it’s a beautiful, bustling indie called Bookmarks in the epicenter of the city. It’s my privilege to support their growth and impassioned work connecting community members through reading. Bookmarks is not merely a brick-and-mortar business; it’s a place that encourage young and old to seek out stories and find magic. It’s a safe haven with caring booksellers who help us believe again in the goodness of our neighbors—who help enrich minds, bodies, and spirits every day. They are my friends, some of the best I’ve made in my adult life. Independent bookstores are where we come together to share, celebrate, learn, and connect. They are places that endeavor to fill us with reliable head knowledge, and more importantly, reliable heart knowledge.
I didn’t grow up with an independent bookstore. My father was a career Army officer, so the closest thing we had was the PX’s scant bookshelves. However, there had to be a very special reason to purchase a book when each one added to the total weight permitted during permanent change of stations (PCS). If your household goods shipment was 1 lb. over weight, you had to pay out of personal finances. Every penny is counted in a family of five on a commissioned officer’s salary. So, for a majority of my childhood, I was a card-carrying library patron of the USO’s Moral, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR). I can’t tell you how many times I had the agonizing debate with myself: return a beloved book or incur charges. It happened nearly every time I checked out a book. For me, once I read the story, it became a friend, a world that I wanted to hold close and make return visits. I went through my entire childhood wishing I could keep all the books I read.
Independent bookstores make that wish come true by giving everyone the equal opportunity to permanently adopt a book, write her name in the cover, put it on his bedroom bookshelf, and know that the book is home. I think that worth celebrating and am amazed we didn’t think to name a holiday in honor sooner.
I stand in tribute to you, indie bookstores across the nation. Thank you for your dedication to improving each reader’s life and our greater society. Independent bookstores are creating jobs, funding charitable contributions, leading the charge in supporting other local enterprises, and putting the people (not the financial reports) first and foremost. A fruitful economy is achieved through the honorable give and take, supply and demand, of Americans choosing daily to invest their hard-earned dollars back into their local community. So despite all tweeted word to the contrary, indies have defied the critics and naysayers by not just remaining part of our American way, but thriving! More than ever.
Now that you know, how can you be part of the indie bookstore renaissance? Simply by being active: buy a book at the store or online: a print book, eBook, audiobook or anything related. Whatever you wish for, they have. And unlike conglomerate retailers, if they don’t have it in stock, they will search far and wide until they have found it. Attend one of the many author events and year-round programs presented by your local indie. Bring friends, loved ones, neighbors. That’s the most beautiful part: their doors are open. Everyone is invited and welcomed. It’s one of the few places left in the world where exploration is an investment in the foundations of our communal lives. I, for one, will be there, and can’t wait to meet you with an open palm and a book.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!