Uncle Sam Wants You To Buy A Book

Rattle & Pen is a biweekly column exploring the liminal space between raising children and creating art.

I live near Seattle—a place where intellectualism, the arts, and (specifically) literature are highly valued. The gift of this is clear to me, and because I know better than to take it for granted (I haven’t always lived here), I’ve made it a priority since moving to the Pacific Northwest four years ago to soak up as much of Seattle’s thriving book culture as possible. When I can get a solo-evening, it’s often spent at a reading. My husband and I often spend our date nights at author lectures or literary events. And my whole family loves nothing better than a bookstore.

Is it going too far to say that I think bookstores are holy places? For me, they are a kind of church. I love the silence and calm of a bookstore, the sense of being tucked in snuggly between shelves of stories. I love the usual (and for me intoxicating) bookstore-scent of mingled coffee and paper. I love the way time becomes liquid and self becomes small when one is perusing bookstore treasures. I could go on here, but you see that I mean what I said—bookstores are, to me, sacred spaces.

As a parent, I’ve tried to pass this belief to my children. On our rare days off, my kids and I often choose to hit one or two of our local bookstores. Whatever squabbles we may have been tangled in before entering the shop—whatever personal anxieties or excitements we may each have been harboring—dissolve immediately in the peace made by books, and I can see my children sinking into the contentment of their own readerly minds. They quickly lose themselves in the children’s lit section, I meander prose and poetry, and we generally each leave with something new to read tucked between heart and hand, smiles on all our faces.

Last Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day. Online, this day is described as a “one-day national party.” Some bookstores celebrate with music and readings, others with cakes decorated like their favorite book covers, and still others with reader-prizes. In the Seattle-area, there’s a massive, multi-bookstore contest, the winner the reader who visits the most local bookstores by the end of the day. (Here’s my friend’s blog about her victory as an Independent Bookstore Day champion last year.) I never manage the whole tour, but each year on this day I do try to make it to my nearest bookshop, and also to buy at least one book.

Why? Well, it’s fun, for starters. Beyond that, I don’t believe one can ever have too many books. Even during those points in my life when I’ve been broke and struggling, I’ve found ways to buy books. Books are necessary, vital elements of a healthy person’s life—but, more than that, a thriving literary culture is a vital part of a healthy democracy. You may scoff at this, but I feel it’s a civic duty to keep independent bookstores alive. They are hubs of ideas, temples of free speech, and the very soul of a creative and critically thinking society. (See? Sacred places.)

So, I want you (reader, activist, concerned citizen) to go visit your nearest independent bookstore. Don’t know where it is? Here’s a list. And, if you can, while you’re there I want you to buy at least one book. I’m leaving you here with a few suggestions from my own summer reading list, which I can’t wait to dig into when school ends for me next month. (All images sourced from the linked website belonging to independent bookstore supreme, Powell's Books.)

Happy reading.

The Mother of All Questions, by Rebecca Solnit

Animals Strike Curious Poses, by Elena Passarello

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon To White America, by Michael Eric Dyson

Best European Fiction 2017, edited by Nathaniel Davis and Eileen Battersby

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley

About Kirsten