It seems the dirge lamenting the demise of printed books and the stores that sell them was sung a bit too soon.
Last month, the Christian Science Monitor featured an article about the rise of independent bookstores.
“After a precipitous fall, indie bookstores are making a quiet, but sure, comeback,” the correspondent wrote. “In fact, the number of independent bookstores has increased 25 percent since 2009, according to the ABA (American Bookseller Association). What’s more, sales are up, too.”
And the Associated Press reports that e-books sales have leveled off, leaving print books as the most popular medium of choice.
As someone who’s spent a lot of time in bookstores lately, I’ve had an eyewitness view of this phenomenon.
Since the February release of “War Bonds,” I’ve spent many weekends signing copies or doing readings at stores across the region, and what I’ve seen is enough to warm even the most skeptical writer’s heart.
The most wonderful thing I’ve observed is that bookstores seem to be a destination for young families. On a recent Saturday at a Spokane Valley store, scores of kids still dressed in soccer uniforms browsed the shelves with parents in tow.
A miniature Spider-Man clutched a stack of books. He raised his Spidey mask just long enough to ask his mom for “just one more, please, please, please!”
At another venue, a little boy marched up to my table. “Are you a famous author?” he said.
“I don’t know about famous, but I’m an author,” I replied.
He slowly traced my name on the cover and then shouted, “Dad! Dad! I met a famous author and her name is Cindy!”
From my vantage point, I watch the expressions as people enter. Some are focused and frowning. They have a specific purchase in mind and want to dash in and out.
Then there are what I call “my people.” They enter with bemused expressions, with no certain destination in mind. One woman took a deep breath and said, “I love the smell of books!”
These folks wander from shelf to shelf, picking up a book here and there, stroking the covers, reading the flaps. Sometimes they leave with a stack of books, sometimes just one, but they always leave smiling.
As you’d imagine, I get a fair number of questions while parked at a table near the front of a store. The most common one being, “Did you write this?”
At least that’s a question I feel confident answering.
The second most frequently asked question is, “Where’s the bathroom?”
I’ve also been asked what woodworking books I’d recommend and if I have a favorite travel book. Thankfully, there’s usually a sales associate nearby.
Then there was a youngish man who stopped and asked about my book. When I mentioned I write for The Spokesman-Review, his eyes widened and he said, “I was written about in an opinion column, once.”
Intrigued, I asked why he was featured and he launched into his tale of woe.
“See, I was working at the KFC and this old, cranky-looking dude came in. He was like, totally, old and totally cranky and I didn’t want to make him crankier, so I offered him the senior discount. BOY! Did he get MAD! Then the next week, there I was in his column and he’s complaining about the KFC kid offering him a discount. I was like, dude, you’re already old and cranky, take the damn discount!”
I hope that gentleman doesn’t mind being featured in yet another newspaper column.
At one store, a couple stopped to have a book signed. She said the bookstore was part of their date night. “We have dinner and then come here,” she said.
Now, that’s romantic!
But not everyone who enters a bookstore is there for the printed word. Most stores sell gift items, music and movies, too. That explains the conversation I had with a man about my own age.
He stopped and asked about my book. I gave him my spiel. He nodded, smiled and said, “I don’t read.”
Taken aback, I said, “Not even magazines or newspapers?”
“Nah,” he said. “I just don’t like reading.”
But for every nonreader there are others like the little tyke in his Spider-Man costume, clutching a stack of books and begging for just one more.
From what I’ve observed, books and the businesses that sell them are in good hands.