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 Manda Collis from mandarific.
The Magic of Independent Bookstores
I was one of those kids that preferred books to people.
I can think of at dozens of occasions where, as a kid or teenager, my parents had to tell me to stop reading. Not like they were being rude, of course – but I brought books everywhere. I brought them to read at the table at home and restaurants alike, any time we got in a car, I’d read during class if I could get away with it. I remember one time waiting for Vertical Horizon to perform at an outdoor Labor Day concert – I wasn’t interested in the opening bands, so I walked to a local bookstore and picked up my first John Green novel, Looking for Alaska, and read it while I listened to the musicians play. Another time I poured through a copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula while on a charter fishing boat in the middle of the gulf stream, fishing for cobia. Between stories of Jonathan Harker’s time at the castle, I dropped the book to reel in 40 pound fish. Once I was done, I’d pick up the book again. I never stopped reading.
Here’s the thing though – I grew up on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: an area without Big Giant Scary Commercial Bookstores. The nearest Barnes and Noble was two hours away. I admit it, it fascinated me as a kid to be around so many books, but that was a rare treat. The rest of the time I bought my books from Manteo Booksellers, a tiny, charming store nestled in the heart of downtown Manteo, North Carolina – not far from where the famed Lost Colony made camp under Sir Walter Raleigh all those centuries ago. Visiting the store meant several things: One, I could order books that weren’t on the shelf. This meant I could get books that weren’t available at Wal-Mart, or weren’t even popular books. Maybe a book I saw in the library that was forever on hold, or one I’d read about online. Two, I could explore. When you first walked in, the store seemed tiny. Then the additional rooms unfolded like a pop-up book, one after the other; the children’s room, the local history room, the art books and expensive pencils and journals and anything you could possibly imagine. It was absolute paradise; so much so that my parents on more than one occasion plopped me off while they ran errands and I’d read one, two, three short books in that time span, or start several and pick and choose. Sometimes I’d just wander the shelves, looking at all the titles, wondering if something interesting would jump out at me.
Three, of course, was the Bookstore Cat that lived there. I didn’t have cats growing up, but I loved them, and any opportunity to hang out with the Cat was a good one. I enjoyed it.
Years later, I moved out, my parents moved on, and I moved back again. When I came back to the beach after a few years living in the city, our new home on Ocracoke Island was located so close to another small bookstore that I could hear the owner chatting with customers and friends on the front porch if I stood outside, listened close enough, and the island breeze was blowing in just the right direction. Leslie, the owner, was my first “friend” on the island we’d moved to – it wasn’t far from where I grew up, but I didn’t know a soul. We met on twitter one way or another – she was tweeting both about books and daily island life. I tweeted about everything. It was a good match.
Leslie’s store unfolded in much the same way as the one in Manteo, but it was much smaller. The whole thing looked like it’d been someone’s home years and years ago, it had a front porch and the shelves were snuggling very close together and there was a “Try not to slam the door” sign handwritten and taped at the entrance. A big sign out front announced that you’d arrived at “Books to Be Red & Deepwater Pottery” – the same place, of course, just a small corner was devoted to pottery and the rest to books. This was the kind of place that you rode your bicycle to, walked in barefoot if you wanted. She had an extensive collection of island tales, local history, seafood cookbooks, everything that makes you feel like you’re really living the island life.
Since I really didn’t know many folks on the island, I showed up about once a week to get a new book, sometimes more. If Leslie didn’t have it in stock, she’d order it for me. As it turns out, that John Green book I bought all those years ago? That guy became one of my favorite authors – and people, thanks to his video blogs – and when I showed up on Ocracoke Island, Leslie made sure I could get his books as soon as they came out. She made suggestions, asked me for recommendations, and sometimes just sat out front in the hot Carolina sun to gossip. I had a place to go when I was bored, lonely, or just in need of a good story.
Small bookstores like Books to Be Red, like Manteo Booksellers- they’re important. It’s not just about the books, the printing, the pages, the barcodes. It’s about the people you meet inside, about the atmosphere, about how much reading just brings people together. Standing in Leslie’s shop, at times you’re almost shoulder to shoulder with other customers. It’s hard not to comment on their purchases, hard not to say “That’s a great book!” It’s hard not to be friendly and discover someone who’s interests might be similar to your own (or very, very different.)
Big Box Stores are great. I won’t forget how amazing it was to step into Barnes & Noble for the first time and see all those options – but indie bookstores? They’re something downright magical. You can’t replicate that kind of friendliness, that welcoming kind of atmosphere. Don’t ever be surprised by how at home you can feel thanks to a friendly smile and a couple of books – that place might just become your second home.
Manda Collis is a 23 year old traveler, hoop dancer, web designer, and most importantly – Book & Internet Enthusiast. She currently lives in Janesville, Wisconsin with her boyfriend and a very large library (consisting largely of role playing books), where she relocated to after 20+ years of living in the south. She most enjoys reading young adult fiction, sci-fi and fantasy, and the back panels of cereal boxes. You can find her on twitter at @mandarific88 or check out her blog at mandarific.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.