Work Title: A Charge to Connect
Work Author(s): Amanda Darling
Byline: Amanda Darling
December 23, 1977. It's two days before Christmas and my soon-to-be mother's contractions are getting closer together. Lying on her parents' couch, she calls my father at the bookstore where he is the manager. Come home, she tells him, it's time. "Are you sure?" he asks. "It's our biggest day of the year."
From the start, my life was tied up with bookselling. My father was the manager and buyer at Reading International in Harvard Square, while my mother was, and still is, a librarian. With two parents involved in the book world, it was no wonder that I ended up in a bookstore.
For the past six years, I've worked at Harvard Book Store, an independent bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But "work" is too simple a word for what you do as a bookseller. The reality is that I'm obsessed. I constantly think about books, talk about books, and dream about books. And I'm not alone. My colleagues---both at Harvard Book Store and at stores around the country---feel the same way.
This obsession with books isn't exactly a walk in the park. Being a member of the independent bookselling community has always been financially and emotionally draining. But the satisfaction of putting books into people's hands---getting the chance to change their lives through contact to the written word---has made the personal sacrifices worth it.
In the last fifteen years, however, how readers get their hands on books has changed. Online retailers and big-box chains made the process of buying a book simple and cheap---as easy and bland as picking up a bag of chips at a convenience store. The future of bound books themselves sometimes seems in question, with the increasing ability to read text on digital screens. With these changes, what do independent booksellers have to offer readers? Is there a future in bookselling? Can my generation, book lovers in their twenties and thirties, seriously consider committing to this field?
Forward-thinking booksellers of all ages are realizing that bookstores do have a place in today's give-it-to-me-fast world. The answer lies in a simple human need---the desire to connect. Connect with the world of books, yes. But also the desire of readers to connect with other readers. For readers to connect with writers. And often, for readers to have the space and quiet they need to re-connect with themselves. Bookstores and libraries can emphasize this...