Our Reading Lives

How Having a Local Bookstore Has Changed My Reading

Mamie Cox

Staff Writer

Mamie has a master's degree in Children's Literature from Cambridge University and is currently busy figuring out just what to do with it. Born and raised in small-town Missouri, she currently lives in Boston, MA and, while the prospects are grim, is still searching for sweet tea. Her party trick is being able to reenact every scene (and music lyric) from Dirty Dancing start to finish. She's still working on figuring out her hair. Twitter: @mamienotamy

This is a guest post from Mamie Cox: Through a series of quite fortunate events, I found myself spending a magical year studying children’s literature at the University of Cambridge. When not getting riled up about something on Twitter, I am thinking about fan engagement in online spaces, and the ways in which literature for children and young adults can be better.

I grew up in a small, midwestern farming town that, while overflowing with beautiful landscapes and small town charm, had little in the form of entertainment. For that, my family had to take a little drive. After about an hour in the car, we were in the land of plenty. There was a Target, Barnes and Noble, and not one but two Applebee’s. I was convinced it was the “big city” (It wasn’t). I was like Laura Ingalls, taking the wagon into town, marveling at the bustling streets and fawning over peppermint candies at the mercantile.  

These trips always ended with a mandatory stop at the bookstore. My mom would let me browse for hours, and I happily clutched whatever Nancy Drew mystery she bought me all the way home.

Many years and one 18 hour U-Haul ride later, I really do live in the big city. And while having a grocery store and movie theatre all within walking distance of my apartment is a still unaccustomed luxury, my favorite perk is the fact that the best independent bookstore in the city is a mere three-minute walk away.

Living so close to a bookstore is what my 12-year-old dreams of city living were made of. It’s also majorly changed my relationship with bookstores and reading.

It’s not a special occasion, but a part of daily life

Growing up, going to the bookstore felt like an event. It was anticipated, planned, and every moment was accounted for. Now, whether I just need a break from my apartment or have ten minutes to kill before getting dinner with friends, the bookstore has become a place to go and pass time. Knowing this, a bit of the pressure is taken off, and I’m free to browse in a way I wasn’t when I knew I wouldn’t be back for weeks. Having constant access doesn’t make it any less special, but does offer a new kind of familiarity that I’ve never gotten to have.

I read more widely

With constantly changing staff recommendations and rotating shelves, my TBR has never been longer. I’m no longer just reading the newest best-sellers or whatever Amazon suggests based on past purchases, but thanks to carefully curated and stocked shelves am discovering new favorite authors and previously untouched genres. Staff recommendations, comment cards, and clever table displays have resulted in me reading more nonfiction in the last few months than I have in years. And thanks to one extremely persuasive employee, I even read my first romance novel (spoiler alert: it was great). Also, I read poetry now, apparently.

It’s a much more social activity

I’ve had more conversations with strangers in the cramped, paper-lined hallways of my local bookstore than just about anywhere else since moving to the city. The crowded space itself brings with it a forced sense of intimacy with everyone around you. Add that to the fact that you just picked up the person’s next you all time favorite novel, and you’ve got some prime social interaction.

Not to mention the fact that the staff are stellar — I was on a first name basis with multiple booksellers after just a few weeks which, being in a new city and desperate for human interaction, was a real life saver.