Dear Local Bookstore,
Only true love could make me spend so much time and money in one place. If, as Ali MacGraw once said, love means never having to say you’re sorry, then I’m not sorry – for taking advantage of your air conditioning all summer, for tracking snow all over your floors all winter. I’m not sorry for wandering in just to smell the woodsy newness of just-released titles. I’m not sorry for showing up soaking wet from rain, at closing time, to be one of the first to get Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, so I could get the free tote that came with it. I’m not sorry for chasing down booksellers for expert opinions when I could only afford one new book, but couldn’t bear to part with either one that I’d been carrying around for twenty minutes.
Local bookstore, you are where I had awkward first dates, attended emotional poetry readings, picked out birthday presents for beloved friends, and on certain Sundays, wrote for hours in the presence of other aspiring authors. You are where I went in the midst of my most dramatic collegiate crises. You are where I went when I was hit with a semi-truck of inspiration last autumn and suddenly had to buy everything Shirley Jackson had ever written.
Dear local bookstore, I love you on Saturdays, when you are full of strollers and well-behaved dogs and people gesturing at one another across the store, wielding giant hardcovers over their heads like they are air traffic controllers. I love you on Saturdays even though there is absolutely nowhere to sit and drink a cup of coffee the way there is, say, midday on a Monday. That reminds me: I love you on Mondays.
I am graduating soon (two months!), and after that, I will be leaving Ann Arbor – and I have to admit, I’m stressed out about finding another bookstore I love as much as you. You supplied me with practically all of the books that have gotten me through the really tough parts of college (most of which I’ve written about for Book Riot): Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby when I was a freshman and missing my high school friends. Alice Kaplan’s Dreaming in French when I was daydreaming about passing my French exam and moving to Paris, my sophomore year. Junior year, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. And this year – well, I’ve been buying lots of books in fits of nostalgia, so where do I begin?
I was inspired to write this love letter now for lots of reasons, the obvious being that my local bookstore has become a touchstone place for me throughout my time in Ann Arbor: a place that is reliable, friendly, and at the center of a lot of good memories without being tarnished by any bad ones. Now that my time in the neighborhood, in this city, is drawing to a close, I felt that I needed to express my gratitude. But although I have my local bookstore, I think that the feeling extends to all local bookstores.
My roommate, Julia, recently lost a dear family friend to a long battle with cancer. This friend had introduced her parents and had been like a part of the family for decades. One of their favorite activities to do together with their friend was to wander the aisles of Politics and Prose, their local bookstore back home in DC. There’s something about bookstores that promote friendship, because they’re not just meeting places – they’re also common ground.
I was thinking about Julia and her family friend, whom her parents had known since they were in college, when I sat down to reflect on what my local bookstore meant to me. I started out with a goofy love letter, and I ended up meditating on a much more profound connection. My local bookstore is so much more than just a place I love, or a place to find the books I love: it’s a place where I always, without fail, felt safe. It’s a place where the bad things exist just beyond.
I feel incredibly protective of my local bookstore, because it always seemed protective of me, and all of the other book lovers that shop/live there. It also seemed protective of the town around it: whatever was happening on campus, whatever new businesses and buildings popped up, this was a place where people talked to each other, and where they read about those who were different from them. That matters. It’s a kind of action.
Dear local bookstore, I can’t thank you enough for existing – whichever bookstore you are, in whichever city. You matter, and we love you back.