Friday, June 29, 2012

In Praise of Independent Book Sellers

As many of my blog readers may recall, I am married to an extraordinary woman who just happens to be a school librarian. I say extraordinary because her life is dedicated to passing the love of reading onto children, and if there is a hope for the future, it will be found in a book.

Recently she invited me to an event held at the Lake Forest Book Store, in Lake Forest, Illinois, where she would be speaking on the subject of the importance of Author visits to schools. In the audience were several school librarians from the greater Chicago area as well as representatives from Scholastic and Harper Collins. The greater purpose of the event was to foster a partnership between the book store and the librarians, much like my adorable wife has participated in since 2003. Here are my reflections on the evening and the topics presented.

First things first, an interesting factoid. The Lake Forest Bookstore is the last independent seller of new books in Lake County, Illinois. I grew up in near Chicago in the suburb of Elmwood Park and I remember as a small boy taking trips to the Lake Street Mall in Oak Park with my sister to visit the Krock's and Brentano's bookstore. It was a narrow storefront just east of the Marshal Field's and the experience was incredible. Unlike the now-late Border's and Barnes & Noble stores, this was a single level storefront with narrow aisles and books crammed onto every available shelf. All around was the fragrance of the printed page and the patrons were truly interested in looking through the books to find a treasure to take home with them. Sadly, the K & B is no longer there. However, the closest experience I have ever had to that magical feeling is in the Lake Forest Book Store. For the curious, here is their facebook page. I am sad that more stores like this do not exist, so sad in fact that I am telling everyone I can to stop by and visit.

Now, back to my beautiful wife who loves to teach children about reading. As she explained, it was in 2003 when she was first contacted by the Lake Forest Book Store asking if she would be interested in an Author visit at her school. Seeing the learning potential an actual Author at her school speaking to the students, she agreed, starting a teaching experience for her students that continues to this day. Certainly Authors are not always easy to deal with, but the children are usually awestruck and the Lake Forest Book Store profits from book sales tied to the arrangement. As her husband I am privy to the details of the Author's needs and how they drive her crazy. Certainly they are not rock-star crazy needs, but some are very particular. In the end, the students are enriched, the local economy is bolstered, and the art of telling the story goes on.

After my wife was done speaking, I retreated to a corner of the store while the sales reps pradled on and on, as sales reps of any industry are known to do. I found a comfy chair and started reading the first book my hand fell across, Fahrenheit 451. I started reading and got about half way through by the time the reps were done (by the way, Scholastic has a book coming out that seems to be a rip-off of the TV show Quantum Leap). My wife came over to me with a stack of swag (free books) for me to carry. As I took them to the car my mind kept drawing a comparison between the crushing depression of a world without books envisioned by Ray Bradbury, and a world where books are only electronic and not available in stores.

By the way, there is no WI-FI internet access at the Lake Forest Book store.