My ongoing dilemma about the name of my establishment for selling books, detailed in last week’s post, has led me to thinking about the purposes and functions of a book store. The name should reflect these roles; but what are they?
First, what is the difference between a “store” and a “shop”? I made fun of faux archaic names last week (“Ye Olde ….. Shoppe”), but the use of the more contemporary form “shop” connotes coziness, intimacy, and particular purpose. We go to a store to get more generalized “stuff” – the department store, the grocery store, or the large chain hardware or furniture store. For more focused purchases, there is the flower shop or the butcher shop; a “furniture shop” implies a small, independent establishment, perhaps concentrating on one style or period. Even when we spend time browsing in a store, it is with the intent of finding what we need and getting out. Going to a shop involves interaction with the staff beyond paying for the purchase. The florist helps us choose the arrangement, often specially designed, which enhances our home or event. The butcher cuts and prepares our meats to our requirements. And the bookseller suggests reading that we will find enjoyable or useful. An independent book retailer should be in a “shop.” So part of the new name is decided.
Sharing ideas is perhaps the most important function of the book shop. There is the sharing of an author’s thoughts on the printed page, but the conversations about the books in which these ideas are contained are often more enlightening. The book buyer and the book seller discuss various authors and books, learning from one another. Customers who were moments ago total strangers engage in conversations about their reading preferences and make recommendations to each other. The relaxed and cozy atmosphere generates conversations that would never happen over cereal boxes or linens. In other contexts, shoppers are frequently quietly judgmental about others’ purchases (whispering to a friend, “What an ugly color!” or “How can anyone eat that?”); in book shops, the reaction is more often open curiosity (“Have you read that author?” “Why do you like her books?” “Which one would you recommend?”). Many a purchase is made based on another customer’s enthusiasm.
A book shop is also a place for people to get together with other book lovers on prearranged occasions. Reading groups, either sponsored by the shop or using the space to gather, are both social and literary forums, providing an opportunity to share ideas focused on one book, but often leading to discussions of other books and authors. Author events are another opportunity to meet with other readers and to get to know an author personally. Readers who have the chance to chat with a writer, either in person or by Skype or some other teleconferencing method, usually develop a special affection for that writer and love to spread the word that not only is he a fantastic writer, but a great person.
For the less outgoing or group-oriented reader, a book shop can be a place for quiet reading or serendipitous discovery of unfamiliar works. A few strategically placed comfortable chairs allow a browser to spend a few, or many, minutes perusing a book that has caught her attention. The delight in finding an unexpected treasure or the pleasure in uninterrupted contemplation of a beautifully written paragraph is not readily available at that online warehouse.
I will leave you with two of my favorite quotes about book shops, and two links to keep you daydreaming about the perfect book shop.
“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted – and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.” - May Ann Shaffer, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” - Jerry Seinfeld
Enjoy the weekend, and keep reading!