My so-called Independent Bookstore Day…

For the past few years the weather has been TERRIBLE on Independent Bookstore Day in the Chicago area. We are talking about several iterations of cold freezing rain turned to snow and not the kind of weather one wants to be out racing about with their Indie passport from bookstore to bookstore beginning in either the suburbs and ending in the city or vice versa. It was so wet and cold and rather than dragging totes of beautiful paper works of art on and off the train, or in and out of the car which unfortunately is usually not parked in front of the Indie venue, I’d cozy up at home with a warm drink and an excellent read dreaming of Independent Bookstore day antics. It didn’t last, and distracted by imaginings of fun gimmicks unique to each store—discounts or prizes— I ventured out. This year, I vowed not to curl up on the couch and order through, and at the very least visit one Indie bookstore (I did this last year and the year before.).

To protect the independent suburban bookstores I did visit over the past few years I won’t provide their name, but what I can say is that it was hard to find that book I had to read but never heard of; or I couldn’t find that book that was not on the Oprah-Jenna-Reese list because their labeled-with-stickers titles were taking up to much shelf space, so room for small press, international authors or translated works could not find their way into my tote. One of the stores I’ve visited for the past 3 years offers the same result each year, and similar to childbirth, I forgot how awful the experience was and in a leap of blind faith I returned to a very limited inventory. The question: what community does this bookstore serve? It looked like it had a deal with the school district and supplied all of the required and adjacent YA and middle grade readers. The fiction was all Oprah-Reese-Jenna and WWII Historical Fiction. There was next to nothing in new releases on this sad and tiny table at that. Also, I read everything they had in literary fiction in paperback. It was bad.

I went East then North to Indie bookstores in monied communities, one had EVERYTHING and no celebration or appreciation for supporting Indie because they didn’t need it anyway, they were the only venue nearby with community and school relationships, rich people who read in closed clubs, and very unfriendly booksellers still hiding behind plastic pandemic screens. Also if you are not blonde and wearing golf course clothes and messaging WASP wealth they don’t even look at you at the register. I trudged North to a similar, but smaller shop that I joined and am thankful it’s only a year because most of what I want to purchase they never have and must preorder. Their tables feature a lot of romance, house and home, and of course a solid array of Oprah-Reese-Jenna titles. I figured they had my money and didn’t need more and as the “booksellers” chirped in their echo chamber with like-faced and fashioned others, I made my way home with a hungry tote in tow.

All the anticipation and the festive atmosphere of Independent Bookstore Day imploded and left me feeling depleted. I whipped out my phone and called, Bookends and Beginnings in Evanston, Illinois. I was eager to get a copy of, Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton because who doesn’t want to read about the intersection between Billionaires prepping for the end of the world and a group of guerrilla gardeners in a love story filled with suspense thrills? I’m really enjoying the crossovers between genres now and again…

Well, the owner, Nina answered the phone and breathless I told her: Shop owners really need to rewrite their store profiles because nobody had anything that anyone else didn’t have. Also, one store I went to that was teeming with people ended up being populated by a girls cross country team visiting their friend at work and that there was one customer other than me. The other one had BIPOC and AAPI people hiding in the stacks tapping on their Goodreads accounts to see if they shelved anything that might be in inventory because what they came for wasn’t there. I told one or two as I was leaving, “I get this. I’m heading to Evanston” and they googled the location. It was depressing.

Nina laughs and tells me to come on down and all are welcome. I ask, “Do you have Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton?” Nina replies, “”We have 3 copies would you like me to hold 1?” I tell her to please do and give her my stage name. Then I pass out and forget to get it. This bothers me for weeks…

Today I went to Bookends and Beginnings in Evanston, Illinois with our daughter who also enjoys reading. I figure I’ll pick up a copy and upon arrival discover they don’t have one when I hit the stacks. I ask the clerk who seems bored and uninspired and she says there was 1 copy left. It was nowhere to be found. I ask her if there’s one on the shelf because they were holding it for me but I hadn’t been able to retrieve it. IT WAS THERE with my stage name still on it!! I bought it and can’t wait to start.

No longer will I support an Indie that stuffs the shelves with the Oprah-Reese-Jenna books or only the NYT Best Sellers, I’ll put my plastic and paper where there is true diversity in the collection and loyalty to the readers who come from near and far. Seeing all the Indies doesn’t make Independent Bookstore day more meaningful, but supporting Indie and getting that book that’s burned into your TBR wishlist does. We all need to gather and find people who love to read and share their experiences of what they’ve read, and I’m getting closer to finding mine. Stay tuned for next year when I’ll try to be out of state because there are some amazing bookstores in DC and NYC and I really appreciate what they do and who they do it for. Home is where Evanston and Bookends and Beginnings is and as Dorothy from Kansas says, “There’s no place like home Toto.”

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