Sometimes the little guy does win. Or at least holds her own.
I’m not quite sure what’s happening with bookstores these days – small, independently owned bookstores, I mean; we can all see what’s happening to the giants; Amazon is closing them. But what I begin to suspect (okay, hope for and daydream about) is that we’re gaining ground.
Bookstores are magic places, but I don’t have to tell you that. The watering holes of like-minded souls, the gathering spot for the tribe, they come pretty close to sacred. And it seems to me that, like farmers markets ten years ago, small bookstores are entering a period of rejuvenation and revitalization, even as people decry their loss. Readers have begun noticing how much more fun it is to shop with real people than online. Realization is dawning that—like breaded, fried fast food versus a slow-cooked home supper—faster and cheaper is not always better (and that the price difference might not be as high as one might think, either).
That’s why I wrote The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: to celebrate this way of life that some proclaim dead or dying. And that’s why I cried in the middle of Ann Patchett’s acceptance speech for “Most Engaging Author” at BookExpo America, when she recited the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V while all these pictures of people who run bookstores flashed on the screen. Sweet people. People standing behind messy counters, in front of orderly shelves, hippies in scarves and skirts standing next to well-coiffed people in tailored suits, people who dress and think completely different from one another, arms entwined and smiling.
God love us, we are the ones who keep the barbarians from the gates. We keep a stall in the marketplace for stuff that lets people think for themselves. We take the financial risks of hand-selling things we think are good, even if they’re not commercially viable. We take trade-ins; we make staff pick shelves; we listen, listen, listen to our customers, and offer suggestions based on what they said, rather than who paid us for a pop-up ad.
We can’t be bought, but boy-o can we sell.
I cried the whole time those pictures flashed. We are the little guys, the reeds still standing in the wind because we’re flexible, smart, and fast. What we do is so important: we help people think; we help them express themselves. And when they express themselves in particularly charming, compelling ways, we give other people a chance to hear those words that never will get made into movies.
What Ann Patchett and William Shakespeare say is true; sometimes the little guys win. Here’s tae us!