Community Book Merchants

Where would we be without our independent booksellers?

When I lived in Raleigh, my second-favorite happy place (after our back yard and the woods) was Quail Ridge Books in North Hills. It’s a magnificent space, upstairs and down, that since 1984 has offered fascinating selections of best-sellers, local works, and more obscure titles. Over the years, they’ve featured discussions, events, children’s hours, town hall meetings, and local author readings. I took a wonderful fiction writing class there in 2019, through the Redbud Project, which gave me the courage to write more, write better, and gain the confidence to find my voice and send my work out into the world. And I found other, smaller shops: Pauper’s Books (recycled favorites, comics, a great children’s section with terrific prices) in Clayton, NC, and the tiny, eclectic space occupied by So and So Books on Person Street in Raleigh.

By the time we moved to the mountains and settled in Weaverville, NC, in May of 2020, I’d become a regular visitor to Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café in Asheville.

The pandemic, of course, has brought drastic changes. I can’t just stroll in off the street or stop in for a cappucino at Malaprop’s. To shop in person, I now need to make a “browsing appointment,” so the staff can control traffic and hygiene. Book clubs and children’s hours are Zoomed, and so are author readings. Miss Malaprop’s weekly Storytime (ages 3 to 9) is now livestreamed on Instagram.

Housebound by the virus, we are reading more. And many people automatically turn to the behemoth, the Amazon machine, to deliver all their needs right to the doorstep. (I was a very early adopter of Amazon—I still have the travel mugs, back from when they needed to convince people to buy books on this new-fangled sales platform called the Internet, so every purchase came with a free coffee mug.) And Kindle is even easier, no delivery truck involved! Just a click or two and shazam! instant gratification.

But our relationships with a book is more than just a click and a download, or two clicks and a scuffed brown box (often dented or damp) dropped on the (sometimes wrong) doorstep. By whose recommendation do we choose our next intimate reading experience? Whom can we ask about the best books to talk about on a date? What’s the top choice for turning a reluctant pre-teen into a voracious, lifelong reader?

See, Malaprop’s actually has a browsing category called Quaranteen Reading. And Blind Date Books. No, the Blind Date Books aren’t for you to bring on an actual blind date (though maybe you should, just in case it doesn’t go well). Instead, you select a category based on the kind of books you like to read, and the staff picks your next book for you, often at a discount. A very popular program!

And there is truly nothing better than walking into a bookstore, smelling actual books (paper, cover boards, bindings, glue), feeling their weight and heft. Knowing that these solid repositories of WORDS will live on, beyond the battery life of your Kindle and even beyond your lifetime. A treasured book—the real thing, perhaps with an inscription and an autograph—can be a gift, a legacy, an inheritance.

And once the virus loosens its hold on everyone, you can ask Malaprop’s to host a pop-up wedding. Just try that on Amazon.

Published by sarahb47

Sarah Blanchard writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from her home in western North Carolina.

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