I am not sure how old I was, but I know I must have been quiet young, simply because I cannot pinpoint a year. My mom was there, and possibly my aunt and grandma. In my memory the bookstore is huge, easily three stories, and the walls are green. The women in my family went on shopping trips in those days, and I was as patient as I could be, being a child. If I was good, I was allowed a treat. I remember my treat that day, because it was a book about dinosaurs, one of those little illustrated field guides that are written for younger readers to appreciate. It’s the earliest memory I have of a bookstore and their magic.
I was no stranger to reading. I had grown up visiting our town’s local library, as well as the requisite school library visits. Some of my classmates viewed them as painfully dull, but were the highlight of my week. It was fate that I would come to love bookstores just as much.
I am self-aware enough to know that it’s the situation and people that are just as important as the places themselves. I could list off the bookstores I remember and play a montage of my life at the same time.
Borders—back when they were in business—–that I would make the forty-minute drive to twice a month, always on a day off from work, to pick up the newest issue of ImagineFX.
Title Wave Books, when I lived in Alaska in my early 20’s, working as a waitress while dating a cruise ship tour coordinator. I was in a strange state, far away from everything I knew, but discovering such a bookstore existed even up there, made me a little less lonely.
The comic shop I used to frequent with my best friend. We would visit in the summer, then walk by the rest of the shops afterward with bubble tea in our hands and discuss the plots of our favorite stories.
The tiny used bookstore that I frequented often because it was close to home, which had an alarming number of bodice-rippers, but also a modest selection of new titles in the front, horror in the very back, plus a friendly orange tabby.
The used bookstore my mom and I stumbled across one time; it might have been in my grandparents’ town or the next one over or the next—-all small Midwest towns start to run together like paint—-it had a unicorn theme, so on the shelves were tiny unicorn figurines and paintings of unicorns on the walls. I was small and enchanted by unicorns and all equine-type animals. I only went there once, but I never forgot it. Sometimes I think that, if Heaven is real, I will meet up with my mom at that bookstore again, and we will go inside together. Of all the bookstores I remember, it is the one that causes the most ache in my heart.
When you are painfully shy and somewhat socially awkward, bookstores are a haven. It’s quiet in there, so it’s safe. Somehow, though there are no signs posted, people naturally speak in soft, hushed tones. It seems to be a societal condition that, if there are a large number of books around, you must be peaceful. Perhaps this is from years of conditioning at the library during school years and beyond. Perhaps it is because many literary lovers have spent so long in other worlds that they would prefer to silently observe this one. Whatever the reason, when I walk into a place with many books, I know I am home. There is a sense of camaraderie among the patrons; a sort of comfort that you are with your people, even if they may not like the same genres as you do. There is no other feeling like it in the world.
I did not marry a reader, but my husband is wonderfully supportive of my reading habits, which is all I could ask for. On a cold, overcast Saturday a few weekends ago, he and I parked the car and I pulled him along by the hand as I made a beeline to a bookstore on the street corner, converted from an old house into a business.
“What do you need in there?” he asked me.
I smile slightly, a smile aimed more at myself than at him.
“I just had the urge to visit some friends.”