Bookshops, again


My request for responses regarding favorite book stores brought some fine feedback via this blog, Facebook and email. And much of it was about the much-missed Book Ends Bookshop in Lake Jackson.

So I dug out a column I wrote when it closed and to post  here.  It was also included in a collection of some of those Sunday morning columns in a book published by TCU Press.  I didn’t get to pick the title of that anthology by the way, and I don’t care for it. Sundays with Ron Rozelle makes it sound like a weekly devotional.  Which it is not.


            One Less Bookstore


A fairly miraculous thing happened a few summers ago.

During a little short course I was teaching on the writing of fiction, I was giving an example of irony — or conflict or resolution or character description or some other thing from the bag of tricks that every writer has at their disposal — to my captive audience that was installed comfortably on the chairs and the sofa of Book Ends bookshop. I was using some story from Oakwood, my little hometown in East Texas, to make my point and one of the participants pointed to something behind me and smiled.

And there, on one of the many brimming shelves of the store, was a small volume with this title on its spine: Oakwood Methodist Women’s Club 1962 Cookbook. And there, in the soups and salads section, was my mother’s recipe for corn chowder.

Oakwood is several hundred miles from Book Ends bookshop, you understand. And 1962 is a long time ago. Which is the miraculous part.

Yet, when I think about it, it really isn’t all that miraculous after all. Because Book Ends is the kind of place where such treasures can be found in abundance.

And Becky Dorroh, who runs the place, makes sure the treasure chest is full.

The bad news is that Becky is closing Book Ends on the last day of May, after years of trying to compete with and the big chain stores.

I won’t turn this into a diatribe about the national demise of the independent bookseller, or the slow gobbling up of small, friendly, local businesses by corporate monsters. But I will make a prediction: It won’t be too long until a locally owned and operated bookshop will be as hard to find as an S&H Green Stamp redemption center. Because they’ll be gone with the wind, if I may employ a particularly heavy literary allusion.

And that will be a sad day, indeed. Not only because such stores are likely to have copies of old books that are out of print or hard to locate, but because they almost always have somebody like Becky, who knows about books, cares about them, reads them and likes to help her customers find them.

The kids they hire at some of the big bookstores don’t have any more interest in or knowledge of what they’re selling than a check-out clerk at a grocery store has of a can of corn they push under the electronic price reader.

If you ask Becky for the latest P.D. James whodunit, she’ll probably either tell you what she thought of it or give you a summary of a review she’s read. Then, if she has it in stock, she’ll walk you over to it, stepping over several kids sprawled out on the floor reading in the children’s section, around one of the two cats — Fia (short for Ophelia) and Princess Buttercup — that live in the store, and past a couple of old friends on the sofa who are catching up on each other’s news.

Historians tell us that Abe Lincoln, during the bleakest days of the Civil War — when his generals were losing too many battles, members of his own party were railing against him and his wife was slipping into severe depression — would sometimes walk down the street from the White House and go into a hardware store. Where he would just stand for a few minutes. If a clerk asked if there was something he could do for him, the president would wave his big hand and tell him “No, son; I just like the smell of the place.”

The aroma of leather and metal and musty bins was a comfort to him. Just like the smell of a store containing lots of old books is to me.

So I’ll miss Book Ends. And Becky. Though she won’t be gone completely, she tells me. She’ll maintain her inventory online for internet shoppers.

But she’ll be gone, and so will her fine bookshop.  When I need to go down there and get a little therapy by smelling the books and handling them I’ll probably feel like old honest Abe without a hardware store to stand in.






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