Sundays In: Bookstore Tourism

by Dave Wheeler

Before the storm, I visited New York City. Having never been there, I was excited to tour things and places I’d heard about since as long as I could remember (Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, Broadway, Times Square) as well as more recent points of interest, whether culturally or personally (the 9/11 Memorial, the Stonewall Inn, Rockefeller Center). And now, having only returned to Seattle mere days before Sandy broke through the Jersey Shore and flooded Lower Manhattan, it’s bizarre and newly heartbreaking to see photos all over the Internet of water-logged devastation to places I now recognize for having actually set foot there, reunited with friends there, made new friends there.

In the book business, other indie stores and staff quickly become friends, family even, so when I travel, I try to stop in and peek around or say hello. While in New York, I slipped into The Strand for a glimpse at those 18 miles of books. I tried popping into BookCourt to say hello to the genial and talented Emma Straub (Brooklyn bookseller and author of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures), whom I hosted for her reading here, but, alas, she was home writing that day. Earlier this year, I visited Chicago during the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) conference, and made an appearance at Open Books, the Second City’s premiere used book and literacy emporium.

I really don’t travel all that frequently, so I primarily keep up with these and a bundle of other bookstores on Twitter. When news of the hurricane hit, Twitter became my mainstay for information (as it has been for much of the political campaigning this year, too; times I could not watch debates or conventions on my own television, I observed vicariously through the Twittersphere). I watched the warnings stream through my newsfeed–Go home! Stay safe! Then the bookstore newsfeeds went dark. Friends and others I follow on the East Coast informed the world they lost power. With all the water and wind and chaos, I, frankly, was surprised just how up-to-date of a live-stream I was getting.

And when the weather died down, and just when I began to worry over rows and rows of sopping books, I started seeing these:

But places like Powerhouse Arena (NY), The Book Barn (CT), and Bank Square Books (CT), suffered more damage.

They do plan to reopen soon. Most already have. It would be a sad thing to see bookstores have to go out that way. In a time when so many are closing their doors for so many other reasons beyond their control, in a time when Seattle has to watch another of our fine bookstores, Queen Anne Books, empty their shelves for good, it’s good to be reminded that bookstores are resilient, dynamic, and adaptable. It’s good to see communities rally to recover what they can in dire circumstances.

So many people and businesses have been affected by the hurricane. For the purposes of this blog, I saw fit to highlight the bookstores, but many more still need aid. Please consider donating to relief efforts like the Red Cross or Occupy Sandy Relief.

“Sundays In” is a bi-weekly column written as the experiences of one reader to another. While much of the week might be filled with work and errands, there might just be one afternoon to enjoy the pleasure of reading. For this bookseller, “Sunday” is Thursday.


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