The Mark Blog

The Thing About Bookstores

During our mid-December orientation, each participant was assigned a couple of books to read. We were to read the supplemental material by this past Tuesday—the day we began workshop. My assignment: Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, and the novel Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami. Sounded great.

I went home and easily found both titles on Amazon. I was ready to press buy when I remembered the thing about bookstores: if I want them to be around, I have to actually go into them and purchase books there. Yes, it was the perfect excuse to escape to a bookstore during the most hectic time of the year.

Later that week I went to Flintridge Books in La Cañada Flintridge—a wonderful, quaint bookstore (with an adjoining café) on Foothill Boulevard. The staff is always friendly and helpful. I found Interpreter of Maladies on the shelves, snapped it up, and started reading it in the café over a chai latte. And I remembered another thing about bookstores: they can be a refuge.

The following week I was in Washington state for the holidays. I stopped by Elliott Bay Books in Seattle. This place is a must on every visit, my favorite spot for literary treats, and it never disappoints. Too bad it’s located two states away, but if you’re ever in the area you should check it out. What I appreciate about EBB is that the employees are genuine, well-read professionals who enjoy talking shop with customers.

On this chilly December afternoon, I had no trouble finding Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits in the fiction section. I was then free to wander and browse. In the middle of the store I stopped by the info desk, mesmerized by a beautiful, huge book seemingly hovering over everyone, displayed on the bookshelf behind the counter. C.G. Jung’s The Red Book.

The man behind the desk wondered if he could help me. When I asked if I could see The Red Book, a wide smile spread over his face. He brought it off the shelf and placed it in front of me. We chatted and doted on the book. I fingered the glossy, thick pages, eyeing many of the famous psychoanalyst’s illustrations. Look at Jung’s small writing. Check out the English translation in the back. The man behind the counter spoke about the book’s future, and the smaller version of the book that will lower the price, making it more accessible to readers. Another thing about bookstores: they allow for human contact in a world that is forever moving and “connected.”

Walking out of the bookstore that afternoon, I was glad I didn’t place my order with Amazon.