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Why I fell back in love with bookstores.

Bookstore

I was never out of love with bookstores.

There was never a moment where we walked away from each other. But I did get distracted. If I’m honest, I did have eyes for another. Who?

The Internet.

I love the Internet. Blogs and tweets and photos and endless streams of information. It didn’t just feel like a different way to experience life, it felt like the NEW way to experience life. And I dove in deep.

I’ve tweeted 38,000 times. I’ve blogged thousands of times. I’ve built platforms and conversations within the digital glow the Internet offers. The Internet in turn opened up a world of opportunities to me. I got my first book deal in large part because of my blog community. Comedian Jim Gaffigan endorsed my new book Do Over because we connected on Twitter. Some of my best opportunities and favorite relationships have started online.

But, in 15 years of non-stop online connection, I’ve learned something surprising.

The more time I spend online, the more I realize face-to-face interaction matters the most.

Skype is great.

Facetime is amazing.

YouTube is a window into worlds I might have otherwise missed.

But, when all is said and done, nothing beats 3D community.

Nothing beats being in the same space and breathing the same air. And I’m an introvert. I don’t write this casually or because I love to be around people all the time. I write this because it’s true.

So a few weeks ago, when I got ready to launch my new book, I thought, “I’ll go to bookstores! I’ll meet people. I’ll talk with people. I’ll hear their ideas and tell them a few of mine.” Only I discovered something when I tried to schedule some events at bookstores …there are fewer of them around.

This is not a surprise to you perhaps, but it is to me. There are fewer bookstores now than there were when I wrote my first book 5 years ago.

In the ease of the Internet, in the promise of instant, I looked away from bookstores for a minute and when I looked back some had disappeared. They were closed. They were gone.

We didn’t just lose a bookstore though, we lost a bit of magic. We lost a bit of wonder. We lost a safe haven where it’s still OK to dream big dreams. To walk down aisles and aisles of “what if?” Books are not collections of paper, they’re invitations to different worlds. And being in a bookstore is like getting a passport.

Best of all, it’s a curated experience. The person who is arranging the shelves at Powell’s Books in Portland loves books like you do. They’re surfacing amazing titles from an ocean of options. This happens at small stores and big stores around the country. I visited every Barnes & Noble in Manhattan this week and at each one, I met an employee who loved books. The best bookstore employees know they’re not just working a job, they’re part of a mission. They’re on the frontline of new ideas and new conversations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about bookstores because this week I released a new book. If you haven’t seen the bright yellow tidal wave I’ve unleashed upon the Internet, it’s called Do Over. It’s available in stores.

To everyone who bought a copy online, I thank you. I love the Internet. I don’t consider it an either/or conversation between bookstores and the Internet.

If you haven’t purchased one online I implore you to visit your local bookstore and buy a copy of Do Over today.

Buy a different book while you’re there, too. Get a magazine while you’re at it.

Bookstores matter to authors, but more than that, I think they matter to humans.

They offer something no Internet site can deliver, they offer space.

A room where 40 people or 4 people can get together and discuss an idea.

Long live the local bookstore.

Question:
What’s the local bookstore you go to most often?

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

22 Comments

  1. Chris

    Touché, Jon (comma abuse in action).

    You can’t beat old fashion conversation. After all, books are meant to generate dialogue. What better place than a roof and a room full of books to do it?

    Enjoying ‘Do Over’ by the way.

  2. Bookstores are like a wormhole into another dimension. Maybe that’s where the word bookworm came from. You never know where you will end up when you step in. I love bookstores! I wish I could afford all the books. It is so much easier to listen to audio books with my Audible account, but like so many people say, there is nothing like that new book smell. I really don’t want to smell my ear-buds. Thanks for your awesome yellow book! I got my hard copy yesterday and shared a picture of it on Instagram, Twitter & Facebook! Congratulations on your launch.

    • David,

      Made me laugh with that comment about smelling ear buds!!! I LOVE physical books not only because of the “scent” but because I can mark it up, make notes, go back to it as references (for non-fiction) and just love book designs.

      I love audio for when I’m driving though–when the hands are busy and the mind is free 🙂

      • I have an early morning second job that makes listening to audio very easy. It also makes me tired and so I often fall asleep when reading a hard copy.

  3. There is a Barnes & Noble about a block away from us… I don’t visit often enough, but there is something about walking through the door and into the smell of the coffee and book pages and imagination…

  4. I love bookstores just like I love the library, except Barnes and Noble has a Starbucks. It’s so quiet, no one will mind if I sit in a chair and read for hours, no one bothers me, and my kids even enjoy going. It sounds weird, but I especially love the bookstore smell. I’m not sure what the smell really is except it just smells like books.

  5. liz

    Because I was both poor and grew up in a small town, I have more of an affinity for libraries than bookstores. I still like bookstores, don’t get me wrong! Just wish they would offer some competitive prices compared to what a person can get online. Or at least offer free Internet like everywhere else, or SOME incentive to keep folks in the store..

  6. My whole family loves the bookstore (kids included). So peaceful, tranquil; a great place to just relax.
    And like David said below, you never know where you’ll end up. There’s so much to choose from that the mind wants to consume it all — like a dinner buffet.

    Love this write up Jon!

  7. I’m in Denver so I love exploring The Tattered Cover. Just discovered they just opened a new one in Union Station, actually just across the street from the original so I’m excited to see what they came up with.

  8. Amy W

    I love walking the aisles at the book store and the library. Seeing what new books are out, discovering new authors, and venturing to topics that I normally don’t read. I buy about 7 books a year, but my library usage is much higher- all the books I want and they are free…as long as I’m not late returning them.

  9. Steve

    There is no better place to hang out than a bookstore (the library being a close second). I will visit any bookstore I can find. Locally, I typically visit Barnes & Noble. But when I am on the road, I always look for a bookstore to spend some of my free time (and always end up buying something, which is my shelves are full of books with many still begging to be read). I guess being older I am fortunate that I grew up with bookstores and never ever fell out of love with them.

  10. Jon, I love bookstores, too. Thanks so much for highlighting them today. Love what you said about books, too – “Books are not collections of paper, they’re invitations to different worlds. And being in a bookstore is like getting a passport.” That quote will be a great one to share on my Cheryl Barker, Writer Facebook page. Thanks!

  11. Ernie

    My family and I used to go to our local Barnes & Noble often. Recently, it was closed down and now there’s a Gap store in its place right next to the Old Navy. Ugh! In my town there are no more bookstores and the library closes by 5 or 6pm most evenings.

    You are so right, bookstores (and libraries) are important for humans, for connection over ideas and words and new thoughts. Coffee shops are great and movie theaters have their place too. But there is almost no other space that is set aside specifically for everyday people to share and care about thoughts and ideas expressed in words on a page.

  12. Taylor

    If my town had a bookstore, I would so be there. Sadly, we haven’t had one in years.

  13. So I always find myself looking for reasons to go to the bookstore, where secretly I’m hoping one day an old proprietor will share a forewarning with me regarding an ancient book! I always go to the bookstore and buy books from my favorite authors, in support of them.

    The closest book stores to me are BAM on Mallory in Brentwood, and the Lifeway in Franklin. Though, I would not share that they have any employees that have the love for books as we do and it is disappointing.

    Also worth sharing, I just bought my third copy of Jules Verne Twenty Thousand Leagues just because I thought the spine was cool!

  14. Hannah

    I love the Books a Million nearest to my house. When I walk on I have the layout practically memorized so I know where the best books are.

  15. Kyra

    So true… Love bookstores new, used, and especially Mom & Pop shops. But there is another option losing funding at an alarming rate – the local community LIBRARY. The internet seems to have helped adults and in turn children forget the importance of their existence. Hours are cut for librarians and some are simply closing in communities still recovering from economic turmoil.
    Libraries contain not only wonderful books but are places for community interaction. If you haven’t yet, please consider a couple book signings at your local library and begin the conversation. 🙂

  16. Sherri Adelman

    I LOVE bookstores and I LOVE holding a hard copy of a book in my hand. However, I do not have a lot of room to store all these books I love so I am a lot pickier about what hard copies I buy. That being said, I gifted my pre-order copy to a friend and ordered another (autographed) copy from Barnes and Noble. Does that count as going to a bookstore? 😉

  17. KC

    I love Powells! It’s a book addict’s paradise. I could get lost in there for days and never want to be found. Have you visited their rare book section? They have first editions of some iconic old stuff in there.

    There’s a nostalgic place in my heart for the local bookstore, but I think some kind of shift is needed to blur the lines between the digital and physical community. It’s more than partnering with a cafe or book signings, though I’m not exactly sure what.

    Maybe a bar and a bookstore?

  18. David

    I agree, bookstores are wonderful places to lose oneself. Consequently, I am very saddened that so many local bookstores have closed up shop. The character of the town is very much diminished by the bookstores absence. I have tried visiting bookstores in a virtual fashion, but my experiences online have not been what I had hoped.

    It is interesting to me that one can usually find the books that one wishes to buy online. Unfortunately, the books are not as adept at finding me. Browsing a local bookstore is a different animal; I am open to being found by a book.

    By the way, I learned a relevant word last week: “vellichor”. Michael Quinion included it in his newsletter “Worldwide Words”. Vellichor is described as ‘the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time – filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day when they were captured.’