In sixth or seventh grade, I was asked to write an essay in response to the question, “Who is your hero?” I didn’t have a good answer, though I know I wrote something. If you asked me that question now, however, I’d have a pretty good answer ready: author and independent bookseller Ann Patchett.
For those who haven’t followed the birth of Parnassus Books, the store Patchett co-founded in her hometown of Nashville, TN, when its last remaining bookstore closed, you can catch up with this article from The Atlantic, “The Bookstore Strikes Back.”
Here are a few excerpts:
On entering the book retail business: “[I]f I wanted to re-create the bookish happiness of my childhood, then maybe I was the person for the job. Or maybe not. I wanted to go into retail about as much as I wanted to go into the Army.”
On other booksellers: “Booksellers do not guard their best secrets: they are a generous tribe, and were quick to welcome me into their fold and give me advice.”
On what local brick-and-mortar stores do that Amazon can’t: “All things happen in a cycle…the little bookstore had succeeded and grown into a bigger bookstore. Seeing the potential for profit, the superstore chains rose up and crushed the independents, then Amazon rose up and crushed the superstore chains. Now that we could order any book at any hour without having to leave the screen in front of us, we realized what we had lost: the community center, the human interaction, the recommendation of a smart reader rather than a computer algorithm telling us what other shoppers had purchased.”
On what you, the reader, can do: “Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”
If I ever visit Nashville, it will be to go to Parnassus. However, I’ve been lucky enough to hear Ann Patchett give a reading (of State of Wonder) at a great independent bookstore between Cambridge and Somerville, Porter Square Books. It has beautiful displays, friendly staff, and great author events, so I visit regularly, though I don’t buy books that often (hey, I work in a library). However, if you received books as a gift from me this holiday season, they came from Porter Square Books. Is it more expensive than Amazon? Most of the time. Is it worth it? Yes.