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In praise of dusty little bookstores - Sally Koslow
Last Thursday did not bode well for my reading and signing of my most recent novel, With Friends like These. The event was in Greenwich, Connecticut, where early that morning I discovered that President Obama would also be visiting. As the day passed, many friends and students who’d told me they planned to attend the reading let me know they were scared off by potential gridlock. Then, an hour before the reading, rain started pelting in Biblical fashion. No one will show up, I thought, as I splashed along the highway to Connecticut. But—surprise, surprise—that was not the case.
The minute I opened the door to Diane’s Books I entered a readers’ paradise, stocked to the ceiling with a well-edited collection of contemporary fiction, classics as well as new titles. This is the kind of store, I instantly recognized, that makes you excited to read.
Attendance that evening was excellent because, the second thing I discovered was that many of those in the audience knew the store’s reputation and realized that if Diane’s Books had gotten behind a book, is has to be good. The staff, starting with owner Diane Garrett, has read every volume in stock and freely offers recommendations. If you wander into her shop and say, for example, “I like books about sisters,” you will walk out with two or three novels you’ll adore. Soon you will tell your friends, “Go to Diane’s. You can trust her taste.”
Diane introduced me with a warm recount of how much she had enjoyed With Friends like These. She commented on the authenticity of the characters’ dilemmas and suggested that the story would be appreciated by book clubs, whose members could mull over the plot and characters as well as discuss whether in their own lives they’d dealt with similar challenges in friendship. As I heard Diane praise my book, I realized, with a lump in my throat, that she was a bookseller who completely understood my intentions.
I left Diane’s charming shop convinced that we all must go out of our way to support small bookstores that offer personal attention, especially since where we buy books and in what form we read them is changing so fast it makes our brains feel like carousel horses. It was only 2007—so recent I don’t consider my clothes from that year “old”-- when I had the incredible experience of seeing my first novel published. (Little Pink Slips was based on having a magazine taken over by a celebrity, which happened to me when I was editing McCall’s and Rosie O’Donnell knocked on the door.) When my debut novel came out E-readers weren’t around in a major way. By last year, when The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, my second novel, was published, however, early adaptors had bought E-Readers and the novel received some sales of this type; nothing major, though.
From what I can tell, in one brief year, the balance has now tilted dramatically toward E-Readers. With Friends like These is being enthusiastically embraced by their readers, who increasingly include my closest buddies. I’m enormously grateful for these sales and recognize E-readership’s convenience and economy. Still, to me, nothing beats a hardcover’s unique possibility: passing on a book to another reader who will relish it as much as you do. (With Friends like These, I’m proud to say, is that kind of book. Several people I know have told me they’ve even bought multiple copies to give to friends.)
Let’s give a shout out for dusty little hole-in-the-wall bookstores owned by people who love reading so much they’ve open a shop partly to indulge their guilty pleasure. In fact, let’s do better. The next time you buy a book, make your purchase at a small bookstore in your area. Then, when you’ve finished your book, share it with a friend.