Some years ago, I decided to stop buying books from Amazon, and more specifically, to avoid buying books online as much as possible. A big part of this decision had to do with the fact that I was a small business owner at the time, and intimately familiar with how hard it is to keep small brick-and-mortar businesses alive in this digital age. Committing to buying books in person from independent bookstores seemed like an easy and achievable goal, a concrete action that reflected my values and would leave me feeling happy.
I immediately discovered that there are many, many books my awesome local bookstore does not carry. A bookstore can’t be everything to everyone, after all. Thus began my love affair with ordering books from local bookshops.
The most recent book I ordered was Danez Smith’s newest poetry collection, Don’t Call Us Dead. When I went into my local bookshop to order it, the man who helped me, looking it up, said, “huh, I haven’t heard of him, is he a young guy, Danez Smith?”
I nodded. “They’re pretty awesome. You should check them out preforming poetry on YouTube, it’s pretty amazing.”
“Neat,” he said.
I have no idea if he actually watched any of Smith’s poetry on YouTube, but if I’d bought the book online, I’d never have had the chance to rave about a poet I love with a stranger.
A few minutes later, as he was filling out my request slip for the book, he looked up at me, smiling. “Graywolf,” he said. “Great press.”
This whole interaction took about four minutes. It was not life-changing. But I like to think we both gained something from it—I learned about one of his favorite publishers, and he learned about one of my favorite poets.
Over the years, I’ve had dozens of conversations like this. When a copy of Baking Chez Moi by Dorris Greenspan came in, the bookseller gave me some great recommendations for dessert cookbooks. When I went to pick up the second installment of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, I couldn’t help grinning and shouting its praises. I often buy books as gifts for my seven year old reading-obsessed nephew, and when I ordered one of the books in Patrica C Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, the bookseller and I had a moment of shared “oooh I love this series so much” glee.
We live in a world where it has become very easy to get just about anything with a single click. There are some wonderful things about this phenomenon. The internet has been as helpful to many small businesses as it has been harmful to others. It’s made many products and services accessible to people who didn’t have access to them before—people who live far away from a town with a bookstore, for example. There are plenty of great reasons to buy books online. I recently ordered a few books from a micropress (for one of the Read Harder challenge tasks), and I still buy ebooks from Amazon. Occasionally there’s a book my local bookstore just can’t get. But my first stop is always the bookstore, even when I’m 100% sure they won’t have the book I want on the shelves.
I started buying books from brick-and-mortal stores because I wanted to support other small businesses. Now it is simply something I love. I love the conversations I have when ordering lesser-known books from indie presses. I love the simple, old-fashioned interaction of buying something from another human. When I head into town to order a book, I never know what I might find. Sometimes I run into a friend on the street. Sometimes I just enjoy a walk on a day I otherwise would have spent puttering around the house. Ordering books from my local bookshops is a little, ordinary joy that the internet just can’t bring me.