I was lucky. I grew up in a house full of books and often heard my mother say that "Books are the next best thing to friends."
I read dictionaries and thesauruses for fun. I carried a book everywhere, as today, one would carry a phone – and I still try to read a book a week.
Books teach sustained thought. It’s difficult, perhaps impossible to successfully multi-task while reading a book. They’re complete packages of knowledge, exploration and enjoyment - pocket rockets of the imagination. And today both book stores and town libraries are in the idea business, allied against intellectual darkness and the flashy carnival midway of the internet.
Libraries have long been an important part of their communities’ institutional memories. Before there were computers, people came to them as places to browse - and some of us still do.
And I can’t resist adding that the original definition of browse applies to ruminant animals that "eat the shoots and leaves of plants" – which in turn reminds me of a popular grammar book of several years ago with the title, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. From just those four-words it’s possible to spin three different meanings – depending on where you place the commas.
Bookstores too, play an important role in the community, with some bookstore owners consciously using their businesses to help restore, or at least stabilize, community economies. One owner I know bought an adjoining coffee shop to make a more enticing block. Another has joined with others to renovate an old hotel into both a bookstore and a restaurant. Still another put her store in the larger contexts of the arts. She writes: "While reading can be passive, meeting authors and discussing books creates a vibrant literary and arts community."
And like retailers everywhere these destination resorts of the mind hear the Amazon wolf baying at the door.
There’s a poem I like with the title, "If Librarians were Honest” and I think it could equally apply to local bookstores. It concludes:
If librarians were honest,
they would say, No one
spends time here without being
changed. Maybe you should
go home. While you still can.
It was written by Joseph Mills, a peripatetic poet who makes a point of getting a library card every time he moves in order to root himself in each new city.