A bookstore opened recently in a strip mall not far from our house. When new, the windowless exterior wall and mansard roof were plastered with white stucco, which has turned sooty and gray, as though smoke-damaged by a fire. The store is flanked by a consignment shop and a chiropractor’s office. Inside, the owner, a woman of about my age, greeted us from behind the counter: “What kind of books ya’ll like to read?” That sounds like a straightforward question, but it’s tricky and best left unanswered. I smiled and said, “We just want to browse.”
All the walls are covered with shelves of paperbacks stacked horizontally and arranged by genre and alphabetically by author’s last name. The owner has a painstakingly systematic mind. Ninety percent of the stock is fiction. The only genre with its own sign is self-help, which is a catchall for medicine, pop psychology, religion, occult and politics. The largest single section is romance. I very much wanted to find at least one book I would be willing to buy, even as a backup or a gift. My youngest son, who accompanied me, had the same thought. For fifteen minutes we scoured the shelves and the occasional unpacked box of books on the floor, and found nothing. I felt guilty about this. Anyone who opens a bookstore in today’s culture and economy deserves encouragement, but we came up bupkes.
I thanked the woman, she said she hoped we would come back soon, and we walked out the front door. My son said, “I feel kind of sorry for her.”