In Defense of the Bookstore or, Why I Am a Bookseller

Thanks to Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl, we have freedom to admit our book lust. And with Jessa Crispin, the Bookslut, on our side, we have no reason to be ashamed, of how much we read, how quickly we jump from title to title, how we just can’t seem to get enough. Something very visceral drives us to the book, it seems. The textured stroke of each page, the brilliant colors and covers, some ravishing, some demure. An altogether magnetic attraction. Something romantic, something animal—let’s not split hairs.

So who among us isn’t dubious of the e-book? Who among us doesn’t look askance as bookstores close doors across the country? For every book lover, every literary Don Juan, bibliophile, codex Casanova, who among us isn’t as passionate for the very houses that store them? We sometimes feel as star-crossed lovers in our digitized era.

A conversation with Elliott Bay Book Company owner Peter Aaron recognizes what we’ve all been more or less aware of: a shift in the terrain of bookselling in the more recent decade and a half. But to shuck trends and—of all things—move instead of altogether closing, seems to set apart our store. The new neighborhood on Capitol Hill, he says, “works the way it’s supposed to in theory,” providing “a healthy mix—between food and entertainment, the park, Richard Hugo House.”

The seasoned reader knows when a book works the way it’s supposed to—a healthy mix of characters reaching off the page to brush your cheek, fiddle with your heart, events that enthrall you to the point of rapture and keep you up at night in some of the best ways. In much the same way, we need our bookstore, the place we feel most at home and enticed to converse with what Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley depicts as “all the cantankerous, conflicting, alluring voices of the world [that] co-exist in peace and order” within its walls (The Worth of a Bookstore).

Aaron emphasizes four things about Elliott Bay Book Co. that first lured him nearly three decades ago and now continue to provide distinction in a progressively streamlined world. The physical environment is certainly one—and one that made the whole idea of moving all the more complex. Would the new store meet the same aesthetic? See for yourself.

The scope and depth of the store’s inventory, too, helps, housing a vast selection of subjects, new titles, titles that sell infrequently, titles from the self-published, etc. Add to that the author events calendar that schedules approximately 500 readings per year—and to do over 90% of those free of charge! To top it off, Aaron says of the staff, “Anyone, anywhere in the store is a bookseller, there to help, share expertise and enthusiasm.” Instead of clerks and stockers, cashiers and display coordinators, everyone working here is a bookseller capable of addressing any reader’s need.

Us booksluts and bookworms, avid readers and lit fans, find a deep fulfillment between the lines and pages of nearly every tome we touch. We appreciate fine dust jackets and the freedom to express our textualities. There is nothing like settling into a comfortable chair and losing oneself in a virgin paperback. And to Aaron—and all of us here at Elliott Bay—that is one reason to keep faith in print, in the ideal of bookstores. The shifts, the ebbs and flows of bookselling may weather us a bit, but in the end, we find our passions intensified, our desire for the paper book redoubled, our fervor for the bookstore satisfied by the local independent’s warm, knowledgeable embrace. –Dave


6 thoughts on “In Defense of the Bookstore or, Why I Am a Bookseller

  1. Thank you for saying so well one of the reasons why we love books – ! Books as objects have a life of their own.

  2. I agree – lovely essay.

    E-books have a place in my life, but they don’t have a place in my heart the way printed books do. I love to hold books in my hands. I love to collect them on my shelves. I love to wander through stacks of them in stores, discovering titles I hadn’t known to look for until that moment.

    As a teacher, I understand (and embrace) the much-needed support e-books can bring to some of my students. But I also know that no amount of build-in audio or dictionaries can ever have the impact that this did:

  3. This was really fun. I love all the double meanings. 🙂

    Along the way, I suddenly wondered if there’s any attempt to deal with digital books, right there as part of what the store offers.

    This sounds like such a great place, too. Wish I could peek in on the fun every now and then. (Hey, do you livestream your events? That would be totally cool.)

  4. David, that is cool, to see you working with the trends. I think that’s how an industry can survive… by reinventing itself in some ways while still offering the core of the product. In your case, the core product seems to be the stories, the ideas, the beautiful words— passed along by knowledgeable and enthusiastic sellers who are first of all readers.

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