The Quiet Needs of a Community
Times are tough. The economy is down, as you well know, and it seems that we hear new reports of bookstore closures every day. With these reports we hear over and over the value a bookstore adds to their community as a place of ideas, debate, community spirit and safety. Unfortunately, these decrees are most often given in the form of eulogy.
I’d like to discuss this though, this idea of bookstore as community center, but with a slight twist. Here’s the deal: A community is not only its virtues. Unfortunately, every community has its share of pain and loss, monsters and victims, the underbelly you won’t read about on the city’s website. There are things we don’t like to speak about in our culture. We live ashamed of our dark underbelly and we try to avoid looking at it.
This is where your local indie bookstore comes in. I’ll explain in a moment.
We all have those books that we feel we need to see on a bookshelf, whether we own the books already or not. Maybe you love to see that a store or library has everything Woolf wrote, or you need to see every Shakespeare play, or you can’t be in a room without Sylvia Plath, etc. This is all well and good, but I submit that this isn’t necessarily “crucial.” This can be argued, and yes, I think literature is crucial, but I’d rather spend my time making sure that that one book that can help that one person in need is available for them when they come in looking. We try, of course, to have as much of what as many people are looking for as possible, with the caveat that we try to stock the books you won't see elsewhere in town. We try to serve a reading community that wants more than what is being offered at City Market, but I digress.April, as you may or may not know, is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
We often only get one shot to help someone. I’ve seen it so many times, someone browses for a while, often a long while, until they work up the courage to look for that book about getting out of an abusive relationship, or how to overcome a crystal meth addiction. Sometimes they need help finding it, and in these moments I’ve seen some of the most courageous efforts I can imagine; they will ask for help finding a book that discusses the darkest secret of their souls. To make it all the more courageous, they are asking a stranger. You will never convince me that it is more important to have the Decameron on the shelf, than The Verbally Abusive Relationship, or Overcoming Crystal Meth Addiction, or Allies in Healing: When the Person You Love Is a Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse. These are books for people who need help now. They’ve made an incredibly difficult decision to seek information on how to fix something awful in their lives and they deserve all the help and the compassion a stranger can give.
So often, a bookseller is the first person to hear of these things, simply because we are there at the crucial moment. We’ve given phone numbers to SASO or Alternative Horizons, or Our Sister’s Keeper, sat with people as they wept, torn the covers off of books and pasted on different covers so people can take books home, etc. (Consider this: If someone is not living in a safe place, online ordering may not be an option.)
This is the quiet part of what bookstores do for a silent part of the community that we, as a culture, try to ignore. When you think “bookstore” you probably think of great fiction, fun reads, scathing political diatribes, etc. Please, if you need it, or if someone you know needs it, also think “help.”
Renowned Author, lecturer and Noble Peace prize nominee Andrea Smith will be speaking on the relationship between sexual assault and oppression. Andrea Smith is a Cherokee, intellectual, feminist, and anti-violence activist. Smith's work focuses on issues of violence against women of color and their communities, specifically Native American women.