Memo: To the New CEO of Barnes & Noble

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Shawn Rossi, “Barnes & Noble” [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Last week, Elliott Management agreed to buy Barnes & Noble for $683 million. Elliott owns Waterstones in the UK, with James Daunt as its CEO. He would become CEO of Barnes & Noble. Many hailed this move because under Daunt, Waterstone’s has experienced a significant turnaround, and Daunt came up through the ranks as a bookseller and has spoken about reclaiming the “honourable profession” of bookselling. The picture became a bit murkier when Readerlink announced that it is pursuing a counteroffer to that of Elliott Management. Readerlink supplies books to retail outlets like Walmart and Target. If deeds done may predict the future, I think most booklovers would appreciate the approach of Daunt and Elliott Management to Readerlink. Many think Barnes & Noble has already suffered as it has been “Walmart-ized.”

I asked the question at my Bob on Books Facebook page of what advice my followers would give the new CEO at Barnes & Noble, either Daunt or someone else. The page has a number of dedicated readers, and they gave a dedicated response. Here are some of the areas they commented on:

The “vibe” of the store: People like the comfortable atmosphere, want to keep the coffee shop, and would like stores to offer more comfortable seating.

The bookseller: This was one of the most significant areas where a number noted decline. In earlier years, people found the booksellers interesting to talk to and knowledgeable. Some noted that in recent years, the booksellers have been replaced by fewer, and more part-time people, still trying to be helpful and polite, but under more pressure. Hopefully the new CEO will realize that the greatest asset in these stores that set them apart from online sellers is the bookseller and allocate funds accordingly. What makes every successful indie successful are booksellers who love books, and cater to readers who love and want to buy books.

Selection:  Readers lamented the declines they’ve seen in the selection of books, particularly in the area of fiction. One reader offered this example: “The fiction selection there is horrible now. For example, if you’re looking for Herman Melville, you’ll get several editions of Moby Dick, but no Typee, Billy Budd, etc.” Another reader said, “In short, try to appeal to a more discerning crowd instead of all the formulaic, mainstream crap.” Some would like more international periodicals and newspapers as well. Several readers made the point one reader made succinctly: “More books, less toys.” (However one reader pointed out that educators find the toys and games section an important part of the shopping experience.) One reader suggested QR codes on shelves to link readers to the Barnes & Noble website for other books by an author, or similar books, a feature that might discourage them from “showrooming” with that online retailer.

Price: Most readers are aware of how retail sales of new books are critical to supporting authors. However price is an issue, especially for those who read many books. At $30 or more for a hardcover, new books are out of reach for some, who choose the library or second-hand stores and charity sales instead. But people don’t want Barnes & Noble to become a Walmart of books: low prices on a limited, mainstream selection. One wonders if a discount could be scaled to the number of books or amount spent by a customer a year.

Promotions and partnerships: People would like to see promotions to bring people into the store, whether a free beverage each month or occasional BIG booksales to draw in the community. Other readers suggest partnerships with schools and libraries, particularly in communities distant from a Barnes & Noble store (in many cases from any bookstore).

I was surprised by how many people love their Barnes & Noble store (I do too). They want to keep them open and see them do better. My sense is that they want to encounter a store run by passionate booklovers for booklovers, a store with an interesting and diverse selection, and one where the feeling is, “make yourself comfortable and stay awhile.” Is that so hard?

 

 

Review: The Bookshop on the Corner

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The Bookshop on the CornerJenny Colgan. New York: William Morrow, 2016.

Summary: Nina Redmond loses her librarian job, pursues a dream of a mobile bookshop, ending up in the Scottish Highlands, bringing joy to a cluster of small towns in her Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After, while longing for her own happy-ever-after.

I’m a sucker for books on books and so didn’t notice that this is categorized as women’s fiction, and romance, two categories I tend not to read. What is curious-er is that I actually liked it, for the most part. It was a nice break from some other heavier reads, and explored some themes I found interesting.

The story is that Nina Redmond, a librarian in Birmingham, is about to lose her job in a library consolidation. In an outplacement workshop exercise, complete with all the cliche’s of modern corporate life, she is invited to share her own dream job. And she finally admits that it is to own her own bookshop, maybe a tiny one, where she can help match up people with books they will love. The dream lingers and takes the shape of a mobile bookshop in a van. She finds the van–in rural Scotland–and finally, with the help of villagers, persuades the owner to sell it to her. They hope she will bring her little bookshop to their town, and after being turned down for vending and parking permits in Birmingham, and a near-disaster encounter with a train, she decides to stay. At last her book-beleaguered roommate Surinder will get her and her books out of the apartment.

With the help of the train engineer, a Latvian emigre by the name of Marek, boxes and boxes of books are transported from Birmingham to a train crossing near her home at Kirrinfief. She finds a beautiful converted barn to rent from a grumpy, divorcing sheep farmer, Lennox. Surinder comes up and paints the name she chooses for her little bookshop, The Bookshop of Happy-Ever-After on her van while she fits out the inside. The bookshop is a huge success and villagers who haven’t read a book in years are matched up with books they love. Some admit that when the libraries closed and no local stores were available, they just stopped reading. There is one delightful scene where she looks around the village, and sees people reading everywhere. The village embraces her and she finds she cares for them more than she would have thought–a teen girl Ainslee and her brother Ben, who are facing some trouble at home, a shopkeeper who has faced too many disappointments, and even the grumpy farmer, who she assists in delivering twin lambs that only she, with her small hands, could untangle inside the ewe.

Yes, it is a romance novel, an adult one in places. Nina strikes up this odd romantic relationship with the Latvian, Marek, who leaves books on a tree by the rail crossing for her, and she in return for him. They meet sometimes, and it nearly becomes something more. Yet, it is pretty clear to the reader that the real deal is Lennox and we all wonder what it will take to bring the two together. We wonder if Nina will find her own “happy-ever-after” or if these are just the stuff of fiction.

I loved the descriptions of the Scotland, the countryside, the short summer nights and the Northern Lights, the village life and festivals. More than this, I love the transformation that occurs both in Nina and in Kirrinfief and how books are the medium of that transformation. Nina discovers a calling in bringing people with little access to books together with books they love, books that broaden their horizons, or even books that are gateways for them into reading, as it was with Ben. In the process, we witness a village discovering what it had lost, settling for electronic media substitutes, and the joy of recovering what was lost and making the fabric of their life a bit richer. The contrast between Kirrinfief and Birmingham, with its hectic pace of life, shuttering its libraries and bookstores for an electronically mediated life, portrayed by her friend Griffin, who manages to keep his job in a technology-oriented thing called a library that has little to do with books.

None of this is heavy-handed, maybe a bit cliché at times, but an enjoyable page-turning read. This was a romance in more ways in one. Yes, there is the romantic element of Nina caught between the “puppy-eyed” Marek, and the gruff, angular Lennox. But there is also the romance of bookselling–the wonderful matchmaking work between books and their readers–as well as the practicalities of getting stock and making a living at it. More than that, we have the reminder in Nina’s rolling bookshop of how everything from Little Free Libraries to bookmobiles and libraries and village bookshops weave together to enrich the social ecology of a place.

Farewell to an Old Friend

Village Bookshop.jpgI visited the Village Bookshop the other day. It has been one of my favorite haunts during the 28 years we’ve lived on the northwest side of Columbus. Located within ten minutes of our home at 2432 Dublin Granville Rd in an old, white-sided church building, this has been one of my favorite bookstores. For nearly 50 years, the Village Bookshop, which occupies the old Linworth Methodist Church building, has served locals and visiting bookbuyers alike. I picked up my Dumas Malone’s five volume biography of Jefferson here many years ago. Recently, I read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Road, and C.S. Lewis’s The Personal Heresy. All of them came from  the Village Bookshop.

And now it is closing.

Owner Gary Friedlinghaus and his wife Carol, who took over the store 37 years ago, told the Columbus Dispatchthat changes in the public’s book-buying habits and a declining supplier base has made the decision necessary. He describes his decision as a “judicious retreat.”

There was no place quite like it. At one time, the store had an inventory of as many as four million books, nearly all new, and apart from some old and rare books, discounted 60 to 90 percent. The store was known for its selection of military prints and books. As a bit of a Civil War buff, I found more than a few good books there, as well as many other finds in their history section. They had a great selection of paperback classics, many for under $4, often older versions of Oxford Classics. My latest acquisition in this section was Faulkner’s The Reivers. The biographies table toward the front of the store was always a stop, as was a featured selection of books toward the middle of the store. I often stopped at the religion section just to the left of the featured books and before the passage to the back annex. Just through that passage was a four-sided set of shelves with books under $2, mostly old paperbacks. I made a few finds here over the years! Fiction occupied most of the back of the store on the ground floor. On my most recent visit, I picked up novels by Chaim Potok and Sharon Kay Penman that I haven’t read.

The upstairs was a world to itself, in the back annex of the building. One half seemed to be overflow from downstairs–more history, sociology, and fiction, including science fiction and fantasy. The other half was old books. Some were plainly there on consignment. On a recent visit, I happened into the fiction section when a customer was loading up an old set of Sir Walter Scott novels. A part of me wished I’d gotten there first (but where would I put them?).

Lori, daughter of the owner indicated that the building might be preserved and occupied by a different kind of business instead of being converted to apartments, like much of the area across the street. It is a historic building, built in 1887, for what was then Bright’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. One hopes this will be the case.

The store will close its doors for the last time on August 31. When we were there, books were being discounted 20 percent off their already discounted prices. You could see the shelves were thinned a bit, but there was still a great selection of books. I might be back another time or two–but maybe not, and so it was time for this tribute of sorts.

Earlier this year, another favorite haunt, Acorn Books in Grandview closed. It is hard to see these independents going. It is sobering to realize that the number of those like me who not only love books, but the serendipitous fun of finding something you weren’t looking for on the shelves of a bookstore, seems to be dwindling. Book culture seems to be in the process of being stripped down to searching for the book we want online, ordering or downloading it, and reading and deleting it, if we read at all. For the sake of speed and convenience, we are sacrificing a richly textured culture with unique places like Village Bookshop to homogenized chains and online sites–and not only with regard to books. Will we wake up one day to realize that our local towns and villages have become banal and boring places–just like everywhere else? Or will it matter?

 

Bookstore Review: The Bookstore at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary

For over twenty years, I have been coming to the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary for national conferences of the collegiate ministry with which I work. The campus is in a wooded setting on a lake in the northern suburbs of Chicago with gorgeous buildings that are a combination of Renaissance Roman and American Colonial Revival architecture. I’ve enjoyed many walks, leisurely conversations with colleagues, and rich learning experiences.

This year, I discovered one more reason to look forward to visiting. They have a new Bookstore. I learned that there had always been a bookstore in the basement of an academic building, primarily used by seminarians. Over the last couple years, the campus has completed a major renovation of its’ Refectory, renaming it Mundelein Hall after the Chicago archbishop responsible for the development of the university. Just to the left of the new front entrance, occupying one corner of the building is the new bookstore.

The store is tailored to serve the seminarians preparing for the Roman Catholic priesthood and students in other programs, prospective students, and other guests and retreatants to the campus. Unlike some religious bookstores, I found an extensive selection of works on theology, catechesis (instruction in the faith), church history, biblical studies philosophy, Christian classics, social justice, liturgy, pastoral care, and spiritual formation. Many are from a Catholic perspective, where much fine scholarship and writing is being done and that one might not come across elsewhere. There is also an extensive selection of texts in Spanish.

Like other college bookstores there are a variety of gift items including mugs, clothing, bags, and other items with the college logo. There is also a small selection of musical CDs and devotional items and what I understand is a favored blend of coffee that the students enjoy.

At this point, the store online provides online ordering of textbooks for seminarians, often paid for through vouchers from their sending diocese. The store mentioned they were working on online capabilities for other customers, so check back.

The Bookstore’s current hours and contact information are:

Monday – Friday: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

For more information, call 847-970-4901

Since the store is located on the campus grounds, outside visitors should observe speed limits on campus roads, park in designated areas, and respect the atmosphere of quiet and reflection on campus.

Review: Bookstore

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BookstoreLynne Tillman. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1999.

Summary: The story of Jeanette Watson and Books & Co., once one of the premier independent bookstores in New York City, connecting readers with books and their writers until their closing in 1997.

Jeanette Watson is the grand-daughter of the founder of IBM, and the daughter of Thomas Watson, Jr. who built the company into a computer industry leader. A reader from childhood, this daughter of wealth spent her early adult years working in early childhood education, mental health care, and going through one marriage and divorce. She struggled with depression, then faced hip surgery for congenital hip dysplasia. Facing surgery and a long recovery, she reached a turning point:

“I had a dream. The dream came almost immediately after I was told I needed surgery. I dreamed I was in a bookstore, surrounded by books, hundreds of books, and the place had two floors, and it was cozy. It looked like what would become Books & Co.

* * * * *

“Throughout the ordeal, the operation and the long recovery, the dream sustained me. I was determined there would be a bookstore at the end of the tunnel. One day I invited my friend Steve Aronson out for lunch. He was the only person I knew who was actually in publishing. I told Steven I wanted a bookstore that would look very old-fashioned, be like a private home, and carry wonderful books. There would be events, parties and gallery openings” (p. 13).

This book tells the story of the bookstore that came out of that dream, its twenty year run, and how Watson found her own calling in life in the process. The book, though authored by Lynne Tillman, is Jeanette Watson’s narrative of the history of Books & Co. and her own love of bookselling, interspersed with memories from publishers, writers, representatives, other booksellers, customers and celebrities about there experiences at Books & Co. The contributors anecdotes give us a sense of how Books & Co. served as kind of a literary nexus during this time.

It begins with Watson and her father investing in the startup after finding an old brownstone down the street from the Whitney, who owned the property, on Madison Avenue. She links up with Burt Britton, a book trade veteran who she signs on as a partner. The partnership lasted a year and resulted in “The Wall” representing the best of past and present literary fiction. Burt knew no limits to spending or acquiring books and eventually, Watson ended the partnership to try to meet the bottom line.

Watson realized her dream. She created a two story bookstore that included a green sofa on the second floor, and a curated collection of books centered on literature, philosophy, art, and children’s literature. She became renown for the authors who appeared and did readings in her stores. The list of those who did readings which appears at the back of the book is a snapshot of the literary world in New York in the from the late 1970’s to the late 1990’s. She was an aspiring writer’s friend, and introduced writers, and works she liked to the literary world, and underscored the important role booksellers play in promoting great writing.

Perhaps her greatest joy was connecting people with books, everyone from Woody Allen and Michael Jackson to ordinary residents of the city. Watson comments:

“There’s a significance too–almost a drama–in introducing readers to books. Dramatic because books can and do change people’s lives. I’ve felt that importance as much as I’ve felt it about introducing new writers to readers. Burt used to say, ‘It’s just as easy to read a good book as a bad book.’ If people were given the right book, they could experience something wonderful. One woman told me that she wasn’t a reader until the bookstore opened, but because of my suggestions, she was reading Balzac. It’s what I’m most proud of doing over the years” (p.52).

The book chronicles not only the joys but the struggles of bookselling. Apart from a few boom years in the 1980’s, it was a constant struggle to break even and Watson put a lot of her own money into the store. We get a glimpse behind the scenes of working with publishers representatives and making decisions about book acquisitions, working with distributors and staff, paying bills and making returns.

We also see the beginnings of a transformation of the book trade. Readers interested in the serious works sold by a store like this seemed to be aging and their numbers declining. The advent of the big chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders (!) began to erode sales as people turned to booksellers who discounted. Amazon was just new, and not yet perceived as the force that would threaten them all. E-books were still in the future. But the internet was dawning and cable and video were supplanting reading.

The death knell of this great indie was rent. For many years the Whitney and Books & Co. enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, with people often visiting both. The Whitney was landlord, and as Madison Avenue rents were rising, it became necessary for the Whitney to raise rents on its properties to attend to their own bottom line. These rents became increasingly difficult to meet. There were negotiations, explorations of a merger with the Whitney, all coming to nought. After Christmas in 1996, Jeanette Watson announced the closing of the store on May 31, 1997. Some attempted to save the store, but it was not to happen. The last part of the book is painful in some ways, as the attempts to sustain the life of a dying patient.

Reading the book brought to mind the wonderful encounters I’ve had with great bookstores over the year, especially the ones where the booksellers knew their books and loved connecting their customers with books they would love. I wish I had visited this one. It also reminded me of the passing of so many of these, each like the death of a friend.

At the same time, the pronounced death of the indie bookstores seems premature. Their number is actually growing while Borders is no more and Barnes and Noble is struggling. People are still reading Jane Austin and Dostoevsky, and so much else.

This autobiography, of Watson and her bookstore gives a glimpse into what it takes to make a great bookstore. There is one wrinkle in the book that may be off-putting to some. Watson, like so many bibliophiles, has a curiosity for everything and writes with more fascination than some might find comfortable of inter-species sex and every form of human sexuality, as well as an author’s study of cannibalism. Clearly, this is written in the progressive (and transgressive?) literary milieu of New York City. At the same time, we see the power of books to introduce us to so much of the world beyond just our own experience and the wonderful gift bookstores like Books & Co can be to writers and readers.

Jeanette Watson’s new memoir, It’s My Partywas released October 10, 2017. A video interview with Watson on her book is available on YouTube.

An Amazing Bookstore

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One of the many alcoves at Blue Jacket Books, an amazing store in Xenia, Ohio

Have you had the experience of discovering an amazing bookstore, one that seemed to have any book about anything? There seemed to be miles of shelves, cubby holes where you could curl up with a book, and great bargains on remaindered books–ones you wanted to read when they were full price, except you hadn’t gotten around to it.

In a Literary Hub article I discovered that we have James Lackington to thank for all of this. Lackington opened a store in 1774 in London that revolutionized bookselling to this day. His store, The Temple of Muses, eventually stocked 500,000 volumes. He bought large quantities of remaindered titles and, instead of destroying most of them to drive up the price, he passed the savings on to customers. He had four floors of books with “lounging rooms” for customers. It sounds like it was an incredible place.

I remember my first visit to a Borders store while we were house hunting in Columbus. This was when they were still owned by the Borders brothers. I couldn’t believe the depth of selection in each topic area, there was an amazing sale table, and lots of places to sit and browse your finds, as well as a cafe so that you could do it all drink in hand. All the things Lackington figured out made a great bookstore were present.

Now Borders is gone. There is only one major brick and mortar bookseller to speak of. More and more, the selection is limited to either the most significant or most current books in a genre. The only “everything” store is online. But there are still some great stores around the country such as Powell’s or BookPeople who still approximate this ideal. And the second hand stores, particularly some of the Half Price Books stores provide the opportunity for finding great bargains and unusual books. There are some independents as well, some in out of the way places like Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, Ohio that approximate this ideal.

I find myself wondering if a generation from now, people will still have the jaw-dropping experience of walking into a huge bookstore that seems to stock everything, where there are miles of aisles and shelves to explore on every conceivable topic. I also wonder if we will foster a culture that values such places. But there is the wonderful experience of finding your favorite section, and leisurely reading down the shelves of books and making those serendipitous finds that a logarithm or a heuristic might not predict because it only goes off your past history, and not your future interests, the ones that may be awakened by a title, a book cover, or a table of contents. It is a cultural good I hope we do not lose.

I do feel fortunate because in our city, Columbus, while we don’t have any “temples” to books, we have some pretty interesting stores. Some, like the Book Loft in German Village, with its 32 rooms over a couple floors, or the Half Price store on Lane Ave that sprawls and winds through a couple connected buildings get kind of close to Lackington’s ideal. A while back I wrote a post about bookstore crawling in Columbus. If you ever come through, I hope you will come visit some of my favorite places and help keep them alive!

I’d love to hear about your amazing bookstore experiences, so I can visit if I ever come through your town!

Bookstores as Safe Spaces

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Publishers Weekly posted an article yesterday titled When a Bookstore is Also a Safe HavenThe writer, an independent bookstore owner proposed the idea that for many, bookstores serve as safe havens during times of national or personal crisis. She wrote about the instinctive sense during 9/11 that her store in Utah be open, and it was packed. It’s not always that people want to buy books, but they want some place where it is safe to process, with oneself or others–patrons and booksellers.

I hadn’t thought of bookstores in this way until I remembered that on 9/11 I was in Cleveland for a funeral of a friend and between gatherings, and after the news broke, I had a few free hours. Where did I go? A bookstore. I drank coffee, followed the news, called home, and tried along with the others who I’d never met to wrap my mind around the truth that our world had changed on that sunny September day.

I’ve noticed that some of my favorite stores are those where the booksellers and many of the patrons know each other. It’s kind of like Cheers where everybody knows your name. Yet I hesitate with this as well. I don’t go to bookstores for a social life, or a confessional. I go for books. Sometimes, I’m a bit creeped out if a stranger gets too friendly, and as an older guy, I don’t want to be that person either! I ordinarily find my social life with family, work, and my church, and some other long time friends.

The article writer notes how stores, particular those who cater to particular communities, may serve as a hub at a time of crisis, as was an LGBTQ store during the Orlando club shootings. For others, there is a greater safety than in a church or a bar. I do find that some stores, particularly if they provide places to read or work with a beverage in hand, often develop a regular clientele who form a kind of community.

They also provide a place to help us try to make sense of what has happened, both in conversations and with books (a way us readers often try to make sense of the world.) As you know, I’ve been an advocate for the value of brick and mortar stores as “third places” as well as for the level of service they provide, particularly as they become to their patrons tastes. This article took it a step further, suggesting they provide a vital public service in times of crisis. In our scary times, perhaps that is something we should value and preserve. I’m glad there was a place like that on 9/11.

Bookstore Browsing for Beginners

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Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston, IL (c) 2015 Robert C. Trube

For bibliophiles, walking into a bookstore is a form of paradise. But for someone who is awakening to a hunger for good books that go beyond what you can find in the local grocery store, bookstores can be daunting because there are SO many books. Where do you start? How do you find something you’ll like?

Bookriot ran what I thought was a helpful story on this recently, written by a bookseller. Perhaps her most helpful suggestion was to allow yourself enough time for a leisurely browse, at least 30 minutes. She also suggested asking booksellers or even total strangers for recommendations, taking time to pick up the books, read the insides of covers, table of contents, even the first pages. There are some other great ideas in this article as well.

Here are a few other thoughts based on my own browsing experiences:

  1. Consider a section related either to a reading interest or life interest of yours. Do you like to garden? Spend some time in a gardening section or the nature section of the store. Do you like to make or listen to music? Perhaps there is something about a favorite musician or composer or type of music that could enhance your appreciation. Like sports? Some of the best writing around is sports writing and some of the best authors have done it. Do you like mysteries or thrillers? Newsstands and book stands in groceries only have the latest authors. Bookstores often have authors that have been around for a while or the first book in a series that is up to 25.
  2. Look for books that have copyrights twenty years or more old. If it is in a new bookstore, there are people who have been enjoying it for many years and telling others to buy it and it has stayed in print and continues to be stocked. That’s a good sign.
  3. Spend time in just one section and get familiar with the authors, titles, subjects within that section. It is easy to just flit around and not really look at anything. Take time to browse titles that look interesting. If a bookseller comes by, ask if they have any recommendations for books in this section. Over a number of visits, you get to know a section and recognize when there’s something new. Also, as you read, you may see other books of a similar nature referenced, or even see recommendations of other books on sites like Goodreads. The next time you visit, you can look for that book.
  4. Choose a section you don’t ordinarily look at some times. Maybe if you read a lot of fiction, look at biographies. Do you like nature stories? Maybe take a look at the science section. Maybe current events in a particular part of the world have caught your attention. A history of that part of the world could be interesting.
  5. I check out best-sellers, recommended books, and featured books. If you have reading friends, perhaps they have mentioned some of these and, if it is a type of book you like, it could make for interesting conversation. This is a great way to learn about things you might not otherwise consider reading.
  6. I like to check out bargains as well. Sometimes these are on new releases, which can be a decent deal. Other bargains in new bookstores are often “remaindered” books that haven’t sold that well, so you might steer clear of those. Many used stores have a bargain area where I’ve discovered some real finds. Sometimes it is just a matter of too many copies of a book. You might even find something they are charging more for in another part of the store.
  7. Use your smartphone. I’m not saying use the bookstore as a showroom to order the book online. Rather, if you are interested in a book, look up the online reviews and see what others are saying about it. Then buy it from the bookseller who has created this place where you can have the pleasures of browsing and the serendipitous opportunities to discover books and authors you never knew about that an online algorithm would not point you toward.

I really like the article’s suggestion of allowing yourself some time. “Browsing” in these days of internet and smartphone is often an activity of frenetically clicking or swiping or tapping from one site to the next. It’s different in a bookstore. This is a place to slow down and savor. Usually the people who work in bookstores love books, like to recommend books, and realize that good recommendations mean you will keep coming back.

Don’t worry about finding the “right” book. Often I feel it is the case when I’m browsing that the right book ends up finding me. And if it doesn’t, that’s OK as well. I don’t mind walking out empty-handed rather than buying something just to say I’ve bought something. Perhaps you’ll look in different places, or there will be new books, or you will “see” something you hadn’t seen before even if it was there. The books will find you.

 

Bookstore Review: Gospel Book Store

Gospel Book Store EntranceLast week, we enjoyed a getaway to one of our favorite parts of Ohio, the Amish communities in Holmes and Tuscarawas counties of Ohio. We enjoy visiting furniture and quilt shops where we can study fine Amish craftsmanship. We found a small “general store” on a country road near Farmerstown, right in the midst of the Amish community. And we discovered the Gospel Book Store in the German Village Center in Berlin, which seems to be the unofficial “capital” of Amish country in Ohio.

The store is located just inside the main entrance of the German Village Center which also includes a market, a pharmacy with an old fashion soda fountain, and a hardware store. Outside the front entrance to the store are sale tables of books, sheet music, and Bibles. Current best-sellers can be found just inside the front entrance. For those visiting who love the cooking in the area, there is a section of Amish and local cookbooks.

CookbooksI also found the selection of Bibles, devotional and prayer books in German an unusual feature of this bookstore. And given its location, it features an extensive selection of Amish romance fiction. I understand this is one of the most popular genres within Christian fiction, and a number of the authors have spent time in this area researching their books. If you are interested in learning more about Amish history and life, there are also books on these subjects.

Amish litAlso in the book sections are an extensive selection of Bibles, devotional materials, books on the Christian life by both popular writers and more serious works on issues and theology, including some of the books I’ve reviewed on this blog! One of the book sellers mentioned that they actually do sell a number of books because of the “unplugged” lifestyle of many in the community. They read rather than watch TV–imagine that!

The store also sells a number of gift items and cards as well as various church supplies. They have an extensive selection of accompaniment CDs as well as other music in genres as diverse as a capella Mennonite music to bluegrass to gospel. They also sell sheet music for choirs and soloists, Christian education materials, communion supplies, and choir robes.

Like many independent bookstores they actively promote events for the community, including a Cookbook Extravaganza with local authors on hand with samples of their recipes. They sponsor a Gospel Concert series held at Fisher Auditorium at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in nearby Wooster.

At one time, it was not uncommon to find stores like this in most communities of some size. They are now fewer and far between. Like most stores they have a well-designed website that allows for online ordering. What struck me in our visit there was that the proprietors have worked hard to know this church-going community and to operate an attractive, friendly store with a selection of the items that cater to the interests of both local people and others visiting the community. If you are a church-going person and have never seen a store like this, it is well worth a visit!

Here are store hours, address, and other essential contact information:

Gospel Book Store
4900 Oak St
PO Box 320
Berlin, OH 44610
Phone: 330-893-2523
Fax: 330-893-3847
Email: info@mygospelbookstore.com

Store Hours:
Mon-Thur: 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM
Fri: 8:30 AM to 7:00 PM
Sat: 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Sunday: CLOSED

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — My Bucket List

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The Butler Institute of American Art (c)Robert Trube, 2014

I’ve been thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. One of these is to plan some time hanging out in Youngstown. One of things I’ve realized writing these posts is that while I have a lot of good memories of Youngstown, there are a number of things I haven’t experienced, or checked out recently, or that are new since I’ve spent much time in Youngstown. There is a great post on the Defend Youngstown blog of 50 Things To Do in Youngstown. It’s a great list that reflects how rich Youngstown’s ethnic and cultural life still is. Here’s the “bucket list” I came up with, at least my top ten:

  1. Dorian Books. I’m a bookstore junkie if you haven’t noticed. I love to write reviews of indie bookstores I come across in my journeys and this one looks interesting.
  2. I want to get to the Arms Family Museum of Local History and the Tyler History Center. I’ve never visited the Tyler and visited the Arms Museum back in college days before I realized how much I like local history.
  3. The Royal Oaks has come up so often as the quintessential Youngstown bar. Not being an east sider, I never got there. Their ribs sound incredible.
  4. The Youngstown Business Incubator sounds like a fascinating place. Jim Cossler must be the ultimate networker because he’s even connected with me on LinkedIn. Gotta meet this guy.
  5. I’ve had many Brier Hill pizzas but never one from St. Anthony’s. I’d love to see this place and what the Brier Hill neighborhood is like these days.
  6. I want to buy some Mill Creek Maple Syrup made by the Rocky Ridge Neighbors. We love tasting maple syrups from different areas but have never had any from our own. Of course some meandering around the park would be in order as well!
  7. You can’t understand your Youngstown heritage without understanding the steel industry. The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor is relatively new and sounds like a great place to learn about that heritage. Another museum for the history junkie!
  8. You gotta get some good Italian food in Youngstown. I haven’t been to Cassese’s MVR since the ’80s. Hope they are still good. Any other recommendations?
  9. We’ve been wanting for some time to get a good pizza at the Elmton. Every time I hear of people from Y’town going there, my mouth waters!
  10. A visit to the Butler is like seeing old friends and making new ones. One of my “old friends” is Robert Vonnoh’s In Flanders Field-Where Soldiers Sleep and Poppies Grow.

That’s my bucket list and probably reflects my own quirky tastes. For others of you not living in Youngstown, what’s on your bucket list? For those who do live in Youngstown, what would you recommend that I’m missing (it was tough to choose just ten, which will take a couple visits at least I suspect)?

Like what you see here? You can check out all my other Youngstown posts by clicking “On Youngstown” on the blog menu.