Each Thursday, to celebrate #IndieThursday, I’ve asked authors, bloggers, readers & other lovers of books to write about how independent bookstores have influenced their lives, or the lives of those around them. Today I’m pleased to welcome Lauren Baratz-Logstead to kick off this new series.
INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE
By Lauren Baratz-Logsted
For the better part of 11 years, from 1983-1994, I was a buyer and bookseller for the late great independent Klein’s of Westport. One day a woman came in with dark glasses on, tears snaking out from underneath. “I need a book,” she said to me, desperation in her voice. “Just give me something to read.”
Now, like all good independent booksellers, I was used to customers coming in looking for advice; and like them, I had stock questions to ask in such situations, so as to avoid wasting my time and theirs by barking up the wrong literary tree. Some sample questions: “Who are some of your favorite authors?” “What kind of books does your friend usually like to read?” “What’s the last book your son loved?” Obviously, though, this woman was in no state of mind to be taking a quiz.
That left me with my next option. Every good independent bookseller also commits to memory titles that almost anyone should love provided: a) the person is reasonably intelligent; and b) loves to read. Some of my favorite safe-bet go-to books at the time were Body and Soul by Frank Conroy, Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price, and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay. But these did not seem like good books to give to this woman because all contain at least some very dark themes and plotlines, and she was clearly close enough to the edge already.
Then inspiration struck and I led her to the paperback section of the store, the B section specifically, hoping against hope we’d have what I was looking for. And there it was: one copy of Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns. I pulled it from the shelf, placed it in her hands.
“Here,” I said.
She looked down at the cover with its red border and Americana artwork. “OK,” was all she said.
Then she followed me back to the front desk, paid and was gone.
About a week later, I was working in the stacks when the woman came back, this time without the sunglasses.
“You saved my life,” she said simply.
I was taken aback by this, to say the least. I’d done a lot of things as an independent bookseller but I’d never saved a life. That was the province of firemen and surgeons and EMTs. Me, I’m the last person you want around during a medical emergency.
Then she proceeded to tell me what had been going on in her life prior to her first setting foot in my store with her request, “Just give me something to read.” I don’t need to get into all the gory details here. Suffice it to say, with apologizes for the coming cliché, that her life had become a perfect storm of awfulness; really, any one bad thing that had happened to her would have been enough to knock most people for a loop. But all that awfulness at once?
And that’s when it hit me, what she’d meant: I had saved her life. And you know what else I realized? Independent booksellers save lives every day. They save people’s sanity. They save people’s sense of equilibrium. They put books into people’s hands that provide information or perspective or escape, as needed. Whether wittingly or not – and my guess would be that most do not know quite the extent of their own power for good – they save lives.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 20 books for adults, teens and children. While she’s never saved another life with a book before – at least not to her knowledge – she’s received countless emails from kids, parents, grandparents and even teachers, all basically saying, “X Child did not like to read before discovering The Sisters 8,” a series for young readers. Her next YA book will be Little Women and Me in November. You can read more about her life and work at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com.
Participation in #IndieThursday is simple: just visit your local independent bookstore, either in person or online. Tweet what you purchased, as well as the name of the store, using the hashtag #IndieThursday. Help celebrate indie bookstores!
If you would like to do a guest post on how independent bookstores have influenced your life, please email me at jennsbookshelfATgmailDOTcom.