Bookstores as Safe Spaces


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

Bookends and Beginnings interior

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

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


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.

Bob on Books in 2016

20151225_163728I just looked back at a post from a year ago where I talked about some of the things I hoped to do on the blog in 2015.  Here are some of the successes, and some of those lapses we won’t talk too much about:


  • I reviewed more recently published books, those with a 2015 copyright.
  • I started including a summary at the top of my reviews to help with deciding whether you were interested enough in a book to read my whole review. I also include publishing information and a link to the publisher’s website for the book if I can locate this.
  • I did a couple author interviews, a two part interview with a publisher, and many of the bookstore reviews included interviews with an owner or bookseller.
  • I certainly did posts on the reading life. Some of my favorites were on books I read too soon and books I wish I had read sooner.
  • I did a variety of bookstore reviews, enough to give this its own category on the blog menu.
  • I also converted the blog to a “responsive” theme, making it easier to read in general and especially on tablets and smartphones.
  • I continued the “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” series– far longer than I expected.


  • I didn’t do graphic novels. Sorry Ben. I think I’m going to leave reviewing these to you!
  • I didn’t really feature famous readers other than Dr. Eliot’s “five foot shelf.”

Some thoughts about 2016:

Reviews: I will continue to look for ways to tweak these and would love to get your feedback on what would make these more user friendly for you. I would also like to explore doing more author interviews in conjunction with book reviews. I consider reading an interactive relationship of the ideas and imaginations of reader and author via the book. I hope I can personalize the author end more.

Literacy: It has always been a passion of mine to foster literacy, which is not just the ability to read and write, but a growing love and thoughtfulness in engaging in these activities through reading quality work, thinking critically about what we’ve read, and writing with cogency and grace. I hope to interact with teachers of reading, librarians, booksellers, and writers around this theme. Because I review and write on theological subjects, I’m also interested in the role churches and other religious institutions play in fostering literacy. I’ve been most intrigued by the work of Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis, and their Englewood Review of Books in this regard.

Bookstore Reviews: I hope to continue to feature great bookstores, both for new and used books, especially those independently owned. I have to do this as my travels give me opportunity. If you know of a great store in another part of the country than the Midwest and would be interested in doing a “guest review”, let me know!

On Life: These posts, and those on Youngstown tend to be the most popular, but in some ways the most unpredictable. What I would say, is that in these and all posts, I want to exemplify and encourage what I called recently “the speech of freedom.” I want to work out more of what that means this year. I’m not sure of what that will mean but I do want to foster a different kind of speech, a different ethic of speech from the polarizing speech in the worlds of politics, punditry, and other forms of popular discourse. I hope we can work together on that!

Thanks to all of you who follow the blog and especially those who engage the things I write. I would like to hear what you think about my ideas for the blog, and your ideas of what you’d enjoy seeing.

Bookstore Review: Destination Discount Books

[Note on March 28, 2017: We drove by here a few weeks ago and saw “Going Out of Business” signs. It is suggested you contact them by phone before visiting.]

20151219_152326Recently I heard rumors from my son of a new bookstore on the north side of Delaware, Ohio. Then a sales circular arrived at our home late last week with an ad for Destination Discount Books located just north of the town of Delaware on U. S. Route 23. So having wrapped up our Christmas shopping, we made a jaunt up to the store on Saturday.

The store is on the west side of U.S. 23 in what looks to be a Tudor-style home on a hill above the road. Formerly, it had been occupied by a couple of restaurant operations, and the building had been unoccupied for about ten years. The owners finally decided to turn it into a bookstore after the closing of a favorite bookstore in downtown Delaware. They opened in April of 2015 and advertise having a selection of 85,000 (all new, or new remaindered) books including an extensive children’s section and a large variety of gift items and jewelry.

20151219_152949My very first impression was how full the parking lot was. The owner, Ashley, confirmed that they have had a very good holiday season that surprised even them. When we came in the front door, we were greeted by a bookseller who explained the layout of the store and asked us if there was anything particular we were looking for. Just inside the front door is an alcove with all the current best sellers, all discounted. To the right, the front room and middle rooms feature various categories of fiction. Separating the two rooms is a fireplace, with seating in front of the fireplace and seating by the front windows in the front room.  The back room included various self-help, exercise and health, music, and art and other non-fiction topics.

20151219_153340If one takes the staircase up from the first floor, you will find the layout virtually duplicated on the second floor. To your right at the top of the stairs in the front is a room with business, automotive, biography, history, and other topics. The hallway itself has a section of Bibles and the center room features an extensive selection of Christian fiction and non-fiction. On the left side of the hallway is a section given over to cookbooks. Then in the back is a huge selection of children’s books and other children’s items including plush toys. The children I saw seemed to really love this space.

20151219_153554My impression throughout was of a clean, well-appointed store with plenty of light and ease of access to all the books. There is room in the main floor front room for book signings and readings and the store supports local authors. Nearly all of the rooms have comfortable seating making it possible to browse your books or talk with a friend over a coffee or glass of wine from the coffee and wine bar on the main floor.

20151219_161632Yes, not only does this store, like many have an extensive selection of coffees and teas, but also they have a wine bar and sell a selection of wines. This is found to the left of the front entryway on the main floor, as part of the gift, jewelry and checkout area. I had a chance to visit with the store owner, Ashley, for a few minutes (they were busy!). She told me they are constantly getting new items into the store and that their current leading seller was their line of “snaps” jewelry (for the uninitiated, this is a line of bracelets, necklaces, and rings with interchangeable insets that “snap” in and out and are held magnetically, allowing you to color coordinate). Like most bookstores, gift items, jewelry, and beverages are a vital part of their bottom line!

Destination Discount Books has filled a void in the book market around Delaware with a tasteful, well-stocked and comfortable store for the whole family and nearly all reading tastes. I came away with a collection of essays on American history by Gordon Wood, and a beautifully illustrated book by one of my own heroes of the faith, John Stott, titled People My Teachers (they had lots of copies of these for the ridiculously low price of $2.99). If you are in the area and want to stop by or call to see if they have a book you are looking for, here’s what you need:

  • Address: 1185 U.S. Highway 23 North (Route 23), Delaware, OH 43015
  • Phone: 740-362-7711
  • Email:
  • Website:
  • Hours:  Monday – Saturday, 9 AM to 9 PM; Sunday, 12 PM to 6 PM

This and all my bookstore reviews may now be found by clicking “On Bookstores” on the menu bar (or icon) at the top of my blog.

New Menu Category @Bob on Books!

Given that this is a book blog, I write on all things related to books, at least that I can think of! One of the fun things I’ve had the chance to do is write reviews of bookstores and other posts about bookstores. With the advent of e-books and online bookselling, I admire those entrepreneurs who continue to provide a place where we can page through a book, sit and read a chapter, and make those serendipitous discoveries of things we weren’t looking for that look really interesting.

So, I have now done enough of these posts, including my “bookstore crawling in Columbus” post that I have created a menu category on the menu bar titled “On Bookstores” to make it easier to find all my bookstore reviews and related posts. I hope to keep adding to these as I travel about and hear of interesting places.

Speaking of that, check out the blog tomorrow for my latest bookstore review!


Bookstore Review: Bookends & Beginnings

Bookends and Beginnings interiorOn my mini-bookstore crawl in Evanston, I also came across a listing for Bookends & Beginnings, located in the legendary location of Bookman’s Alley. I became even more intrigued when I walked past a big B & N store and discovered they were located the next block north on Sherman — literally in an alley off the main street. As I approached, I found what looked like a very modest storefront and thought, this will be a quick visit.

Wrong. I walked in and discovered a store four or five times bigger than I expected, kind of like the stable in The Last Battle (or the TARDIS in Dr. Who) that was bigger on the inside than the outside. And even more surprising in the shadow of B & N, this store sells new books, ranging from serious literature and non-fiction to a section on the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field (hey, the Cubs are in the playoffs as I write!).

Book RecommendationOne of the most delightful things you won’t find in that big chain bookstore are handwritten reviews by bookstore staff underneath books throughout the store. For example under The Book of Strange New Beginnings by Michel Faber, I found:

“I usually don’t like futuristic novels, especially ones about a criminal who becomes a true believer. However this book was a wonderful engrossing read from first page to last.”

I don’t usually read YA fiction, but this succinct review intrigued me–not enough to buy the book–yet.

Children's BooksIn the back of the store, off to the left is a delightful children’s corner, complete with lots of stuffed animals and comfortable places to sit and look at books. Jeff Garrett, one of the partners in this enterprise considers this his pride and joy. The children’s section stocks books in 26 languages. In a former life, Jeff was a librarian, specializing in rare and specialized collections, 18th and 19th century German and Austrian library history, and global children’s literature. The store’s website says, ” He served twice (2004 and 2006) as president of the Hans Christian Andersen awards jury of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).”

Nina Barrett is owner and business manager for the store (and married to Jeff–no typo). Nina has published three books, acquired a professional chef’s degree, worked as a food reporter, and won two James Beard awards, a major award in the world of cooking and food. Needless to stay, the store also features a “rich selection of food-related books.”

A Bookselling TraditionI mentioned Bookman’s Alley. From 1980 to 2013, Roger Carlson was one of the premier booksellers in Evanston. When Nina and Jeff took over this site, they did not take over the books from the former store. My sense is that there is a rich history of bookselling in this location but Jeff and Nina have put their own distinct imprint on the bookseller’s trade.

The store is a beehive of literary and cultural activity. For example, today (October 13, 2015) there is a workshop on the art and craft of memoir with Dina Elenbogen, an Evanston History Walk, and a literary salon on “Ta-Nehisi Coates and the topic of race in “Post-Racial” America”. The store regularly features author readings. You can also sign up for a newsletter and emails to keep in touch with bookstore events, staff picks, and more.

This is a store for the whole family–children, teens, and adults of widely varied reading interests. The store also sells a distinct selection of cards, papers, notebooks, toys, jewelry and more. That big chain store down the street is cavernous, and just like the ones in my home town. Bookends & Beginnings was a far more intimate, personal space that continues a long history of bookselling in the heart of Evanston.

Contact info and hours:

1712 Sherman Avenue, Alley #1, Evanston, IL 60201, 224-999-7722,  INFO@BOOKENDSANDBEGINNINGS.COM

Tuesday through Saturday 10 – 7, Sunday and Monday 10 – 6

Bookstore Review: The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

The Bookstore at Vineyard Columbus

I visited an unusual bookstore the other day. It was located inside the campus of Vineyard Columbus, located at 6000 Cooper Road in Westerville. Roughly 8,000 people attend services at this church each weekend and The Bookstore is located just inside one of the main entrances off of the south side of the building.

Jeff Baker, the Bookstore Ministry Coordinator sat down with me and explained the mission of this bookstore and some of the strategies they pursue to encourage reading as part of the efforts of this church to disciple people toward Christian maturity. Very early in the church’s life, in the late 1980’s, they established a booktable to sell books to equip their congregation. This morphed into The Bookstore when they moved into their current location and Jeff has served as Coordinator since 1998,

Jeff Baker, Bookstore Ministry Coordinator

Jeff Baker, Bookstore Ministry Coordinator

Jeff described his passion as one for using books to help equip believers for growth and transformation. One of strategies he, and bookstore clerk, Meg Kuta (who formerly worked with a major bookstore chain) work on is finding “entry level” books that they can sell at prices as low as $5.00 a copy that are easy reads but have quality content that appeal to the non-reader, which he estimates might make up 80 percent of the congregation (pretty much what is true of the general adult population). He gave shout-outs to Zondervan/Harper-Collins and Tyndale who are publishing a number of titles in this vein.


Gifts, Theology, and Children’s Books!

At the same time, as I looked around the store, I was impressed with the quality content available and the amount of the store given over to books as opposed to gift items, stationary, cards, and other non-book items. You can find meaty Bible study tools, theology texts. serious biographies, like the new one on Tom Oden. There is also a delightful children’s section. The store stocks resources for small group leaders, the diverse ministries of Vineyard Columbus, and books related to current sermon themes. All Vineyard leaders are able to purchase books at a 20% discount and Jeff works with ministry leaders to find resources to enhance the efforts of each ministry.

We talked about how Jeff works with the pastors to order books that they will be mentioning in sermons. He observed that the way books are recommended in a sermon have a big effect. Recently, for example, a speaker talked about the devotional guide Search the Scriptures and wove the impact of using this guide throughout his sermon. As a result, the store sold 150 copies! More offhand recommendations may sell five or ten copies to the really interested.

Like many bookstores, The Bookstore will host author events with local authors as well as national authors visiting to speak at services or conferences hosted by the church. This coming year, they are planning to host a series of author events with local seminary professors. According to their website, they also host a writers group and a C.S. Lewis discussion group.

I asked Jeff what he most and least likes in Christian publishing. Vineyard Columbus is an ethnically diverse congregation and one pet peeve which he has engaged publishers on are books with only white people on the covers. He also has problems with the “end times prophecy” books which he feels nurtures idle speculation rather than serious discipleship.

Positively, once again he spoke warmly of the deeply discounted “entry level” books that Zondervan/Harper-Collins and Tyndale publish. He also spoke of the growing level of cooperation he is seeing among authors, publishers, publicists, and booksellers, all who have faced challenges in the changing landscape of bookselling.

Finally, we discussed some of the books that are his “bookseller’s picks”. Several times in our conversation he mentioned Gordon Fee’s Paul, The Spirit, and the People of God, a book deeply consonant with Vineyard’s theological commitments. Two other books Jeff and Meg are recommending these days are John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat and Michelle DeRusha’s 50 Women Every Christian Should Know.

While The Bookstore’s primary clientele are Vineyard members, the store is open to the public. Jeff contends that their prices are often better than you-know-who. They also have a Frequent Buyer program that offers a 10% discount on all purchases, email notices of featured books and specials and has no annual membership fee.

Their hours are as follows:

Monday Closed
Tuesday-Friday 12-5pm
Saturday 5:30-8:15pm
Sunday 8:45am-1:45pm
Additional contact information for the store and other resources including an extensive list of book recommendations by topic are available on their website.

The Allure of a Book-Lined Room

A comfortable nook at Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, Ohio

A comfortable nook at Blue Jacket Books in Xenia, Ohio

I follow various book sites on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter and one thing I notice is the frequency that people post pictures of fantastic libraries, both institutional and personal, or sometimes of bookstores that look like libraries with shelves and shelves of books and comfy nooks and crannies with overstuffed chairs in abundance.

I have two hunches of why we love such images. I’d love to know what others think.

One is that such places represent a place of safety or refuge in a world that can at times feel scary. Maybe this is just me. I was in a seminar where we were asked to imagine a safe space. The image that came to mind was a book-lined room, with lots of old, leather-bound volumes, a fireplace with a good fire burning, comfortable leather chairs and good lighting, a stand at my side where I could place a mug of something warm, and reading tables or a reading desk for more serious work, looking out on a woodland or mountain vista.

So much for my fantasy life! But wouldn’t you love to spend time in a room like that? Maybe if you are a bibliophile, you’ve tried to create, with your means hopefully, a room like that. Yet the funny thing is, that all I need really is the book! I can be in an airline waiting area in a major airport with a cup of Starbucks and a book or my Kindle, and I’m in that place.

East Reading Room at Thompson Library, The Ohio State University

East Reading Room at Thompson Library, The Ohio State University

My other hunch is that these spaces represent something of our aspirations as readers. Sitting in a university reading room studying (or pretending to) a challenging work makes me feel like a scholar, or perhaps a bit wiser, whether it is really so or not! Sitting in a place where we have access to the best of what human beings have thought or written encourages us in the hope that we might gain some of that knowledge.

I’ve observed that some of my favorite bookstores try, within their means and their space, to create this feel. They allow us to slow down, to savor being around all these books. They aren’t just warehousing books. They are welcoming those who read them. I’ve found others, particularly those selling used books that simply pack as many books in as possible. There’s no place to sit to skim a book or read a chapter to see if it is what you are looking for. I’ve found some great books in these places but they aren’t places where I want to linger. That can be mitigated somewhat by a friendly bookseller who is appropriately helpful and enjoys talking about books.

Maybe another word for all of this is that these places, whether mental images or real places, represent places of retreat. They are places where we come away and have the safety to reflect and be renewed. At one time, we might have turned more to religious places, and some of us still do. (I’ve found some of the best retreat centers even have spaces like this!). It makes me wonder whether such imagery, and the real places that approximate this, as good as they are, point us to something more, just as the books we read often do.