Do you remember when going to the bookstore was an event?  You went with your parents to a smallish store and hustled over to the kids section, with its brightly coloured books and maybe some small chairs and toys? I remember that quite vividly. I remember going away on a month long car trip through Europe, which was preceded by a trip to the bookstore and a very inept negotiation session on my part about how many (new!!) books I would get to bring with me. I was always a fast reader.

When I was 16, I started working at an independent bookstore in Toronto, and it was like heaven. All the best books came through that store. I worked there, on and off, for years. The staff were great – early 90s Gen Xers who couldn’t get an office job and worked at a bookstore for the credibility while they saved enough money to go back to school and train in something more useful than their philosophy or English Lit BAs. I picked a university based on the recommendation of one of my colleagues. I saw some very strange movies with other colleagues. I got tanked for the first time at a staff shindig. I had regular clients who would buy hundreds and hundreds of dollars of books based on my recommendation. I was part of a community.

I definitely got sucked into the joy of the big box bookstore. The choice! The variety! The discounts! (Oh man, I loved the discounts.) Then I got sucked into Amazon, and the love of my life (aka the Kindle). More discounts! And, Amazon made recommendations on what to read based on what I had read before. It was the ultimate lazy person way to shop. No need to browse – just click on the “recommended for you” page.

Except, those recommendations often suck. And they’re only based on what you’ve bought before. So if you buy a lot of trashy romances (cough, splutter, um, like me) all of your future recommendations involve trashy romances. Which isn’t really all that great for helping you to find new books.

Today I went to a bookstore here in Greenpoint called Word. Go on, check out their website. They have a lot of really great recommendations on it. And inside the store it’s even better. They have little staff recommendation cards all over the shelves with comments like “this book will lay eggs in your brain. in a good way.” How could you not want to pick up a book with that as a comment? I picked up a dozen books and salivated (not physically – I don’t like damaging books) over them, loving the feel and the smell and the potential. Books are about the promise of another world.

With Chapters and Amazon, books have become kind of disposable to me, and that’s a problem. Bookstores like Word are important – they have a selection of books that’s very carefully chosen, curated like a museum. Those books reflect the people who run, and those comment cards serve to entice people like me to have a boo at a book I wouldn’t normally pick up.

I bought books today. Each one of them is a gift, because even when people have Kindles and Kobos and iPads, they should still have books. there will always be a need for bookstores, but in the future I think they’ll all look like Word – small collections of books that appeal to that neighbourhood’s market, that will be great gifts, and that will let people who love books buy the physical book itself, even if it’s only occasionally. Because sometimes you need to buy the actual book. Sometimes, the physical matters.

If you’re ever in Greenpoint and you love love love books, go to Word. I’m going back, that’s how great it was.

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