Bill's Blog

DEATH OF BOOKSTORE

Posted on January 6th, 2017

I love bookstores.  I particularly love small, cozy independent bookstores that are cluttered with stacks of books. 

I generally hate to shop, but I make an exception when it comes to bookstores. I love to browse around them, sipping on a cup of coffee, and occasionally plopping myself into an available lounge chair and start reading some special book I have found and intend to buy before I leave the store. 

My favorite bookstore is Burke’s, the legendary Memphis literary institution that has been in business now for 142 years. That’s not a typo. It was founded on Main Street in Memphis in 1875 by Walter Burke, Sr. and has been continually in operation since that time. 

I started hanging out in Burke’s back in the 1980s when it was owned by the wonderful Harriett Beeson, and I’m now a frequent visitor to Burke’s at its current location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood where it is now owned and operated by Cheryl and Corey Mesler. 

John Grisham had his first book signing at Burke’s nearly 30 years ago when he was a lawyer in Southaven, Mississippi and was selling books from the trunk of his car. As you may have heard, John left law practice several years ago to devote his full time to writing, and he has done fairly well. In fact, I have it on good authority that he no longer sells books out of the trunk of his car. (I’m still doing that, but John is not.) 

I have many other favorite bookstores around the mid-south including Parnassus Books in Nashville (owned by the legendary Ann Patchett), Square Books in Oxford, and That Bookstore in Blytheville. That’s really the name of it. That Bookstore in Blytheville. 

My daughter once had a birthday party in That Bookstore in Blytheville. It was hosted by the long-time owner of the store, Mary Gay Shipley, a past president of the American Booksellers Association. It was a fabulous birthday party, and I believe it may have inspired my daughter to someday become a writer herself. 

But sadly, many bookstores are now going the way of the quill pen thanks to the advent of Amazon.com and e-books. Millions of Americans who love to read now either order their books from the Amazon virtual bookstore or just download an e-book onto their Kindle, their laptop, or even their iPhone. 

Thanks to Steve Jobs’ incredible invention, we all now carry libraries in our pockets. 

But you can’t spend a nice quiet Saturday afternoon browsing through a wonderfully cluttered and dusty Amazon.com. And while you can snuggle up with an e-book while sitting in your pajamas in a lounge chair at home, it is a much more rewarding experience to find a real bound treasure in a delightfully disorganized bookstore, even if you have to get dressed to do it.

Given my love for bookstores, my heart sank on Wednesday when I read the news in the Commercial Appeal (the paper version, not the online one), that Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis’ largest independent bookstore, is closing its doors after 32 years in business. 

I confess that I never found Booksellers or its predecessor, Davis-Kidd, to have the charm of Burke’s or Square Books or That Bookstore in Blytheville. Booksellers was always a little too clean and organized for my musty tastes. It was sometimes too easy to find a book at Booksellers. At Burke’s finding a book is often like a scavenger hunt, which can be a lot of fun. 

Booksellers was also way too big. Bookstores should be like minor league ballparks, not major league stadiums. 

But I will miss that too big, too clean Booksellers, just as I miss Bookstar the now-closed book palace that once occupied the old art-deco Plaza Theater in the Poplar Plaza Shopping Center. 

And so I will soon make a farewell visit to Davis-Kidd, as I still call it. 

I will say good-bye to Joanne Van Zandt, a charming bookseller there who always remembered my name and asked about my family. 

I will fondly remember Christmas shopping there, as well as many hours I spent over the years buying books I found on their all-too-organized shelves. 

And afterwards, I will drive back to mid-town to once again experience the joy of searching for books in the cluttered old Burke’s.

It is a joy to read a good book. But it is even more wonderful to hold that book in your hand after you have found it in an intimate independent bookstore.

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