Time to Support Your Indie Bookstore

hearts and minds

Hearts and Minds Bookstore, from their Facebook page

In the past week, there have been massive closures–schools, restaurants, libraries, and even bookstores. Even if stores are open, many are not visiting as part of their efforts to physically distance themselves from infection.

Hundreds of indies around the country have closed either voluntarily or by government mandate. During this time, their only source of revenue are online orders (some stores can also offer in-store or even curbside pickups).

As it turns out, the demands on Amazon for essential supplies of medical and household goods have resulted in them deciding not to sell “non-essential” items like books, other than current stock, at least for a time.

Of course, books to a healthy bibliophile are not a “non-essential.” It could even be argued that they are an essential to health when we are basically “sheltering in place.”

This is one of those instances where our need to read and our favorite bookstore’s need for revenue converge. Most provide for online ordering. Many even answer the phone without any phone tree to go through. You can make a human connection amid physical distancing! That in itself is worth any extra cost.

One of my favorite indies is Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, a small town in east central Pennsylvania. I have never actually been there and it is on my bucket list of places to visit. I read (and review) a good deal of religion and theological books in the Christian tradition, and Hearts and Minds is my “go to” bookseller. The store focuses on thoughtful books (hence their name) that connect Christian faith with every aspect of life, as well as other quality literature. Their selection of books and my interests align really well. They’ve been able to send me anything I ask for, always carefully packaged, arriving in perfect condition. They do a regular review of new books called “BookNotes,” and always offer a 20% discount on any book featured

I mentioned wanting to visit. Right now, I cannot. They have been closed by the state. I want to see them around when this emergency is over. For indie bookstores, this is not a given. Even when they run in the black, it is often by a precariously thin margin. I saw a new work in BookNotes I am interested in. After I finish this post, I’m going to go online and purchase it.

What if everyone did this with their favorite indie in the next week? And when you finish what you’ve purchased, do it again. It might just help them hang on.

But I read e-books or listen to audiobooks, you say. It turns out that that through IndieBound, which connects a community of indie bookstores, you can order e-books and audiobooks through many indie stores, and possibly yours. I realize you also have a selection of these at many libraries who are also only doing digital lending at this time.

As we have means, it makes sense during this time to ask what businesses matter to us that we want to support, including bookstores. Many of us are still adjusting to this state of affairs. Hopefully in the next few months, this thing will end. Will our favorite businesses, including the bookstores who sell what we like to read, still be there when we can get out and about again? It’s really up to us.

Review: A Book for Hearts & Minds

a book for hearts and minds

A Book for Hearts and MindsNed Bustard (ed.). Baltimore: Square Halo Books, 2017.

Summary: A collection of essays on different academic disciplines and topics, honoring the work of Hearts and Minds Bookstore on over three decades of connecting thoughtful readers with serious books.

What better way to honor perhaps the best Christian bookstore in the country for over thirty years of service to the Christian community than a festschrift of essays featuring the likes of N. T. Wright, Gregory Wolfe, David Gushee, Calvin Seerveld, Mike Schutt, and others writing on topics and disciplines with which they are intimately acquainted and sharing their own recommendations of the books they think are best or were most formative for them on that topic. That’s just what Byron and Beth Borger, the proprietors of Hearts and Minds Bookstore have been doing, even before there was a bookstore.

The opening essay gives Byron’s own account of the store’s beginnings:

“My wife and I started a bookstore. We’re still trying to figure out how to keep it afloat, but overall it’s been a long and fun journey.

In the late seventies, I worked in campus ministry and part of what it emphasized was working with students. I worked with students at a small branch campus of Penn State, mostly engineering majors. I would invite them to think Christianly, as we say, and talk about the relationship of their faith to their sense of calling. I was always passing out books—you’re a Christian nurse, here’s something on healthcare, you’re going to be a scientist analyzing evolution, here’s a Christian philosophy on this or that—and students would say
to me, you should have a bookstore! Finally I realized they were right. Part of my passion was connecting people with resources they might use in their own spiritual development, but particularly as that related to living out their faith in the work world.”

Following this opening essay are eighteen others organized in alphabetical order from Art (Ned Bustard) to Vocation (Steve Garber). Each of the essays combine personal narrative with thoughtful insights on thinking Christianly about the topic at hand and conclude with recommendations by the authors of some of the books they think the best on the topic or most formative for them. It was really fun seeing what books N. T. Wright would recommend and almost every essay had at least one book recommendation of something I’d not read and would like to pick up. So many good books and so little time!

A few essays stood out for me. One you might not expect to find in this collection but which sparkled was Andi Ashworth’s on “Cooking” and her thoughts on food and feasting together, as well as some interesting cookbook recommendations (something to file away for gifts for my wife who has an extensive collection of cookbooks!). Working in ministry in higher education, I found G. Tyler Fischer’s essay on “Education” of interest in asking the question, “what is education?” and his proposal that “[e]ducation is the process of imparting the knowledge and skills needed to live as a full and loving member of a community.” I’m friends with Mike Schutt and have heard him mention Harold Berman’s works, but his recommendations convinced me that Berman has probably thought more deeply about the nature of law and its relationship to religion than anyone. I found myself identifying deeply with Karen Swallow Prior’s love for stories and was intrigued by the idea she gained from Milton about reading promiscuously (an interesting twist on the work promiscuous!). I appreciated the clear thinking of Michael Kucks on what it is that scientists do and how he thinks Christianly about scientific work.

I could go on, but I hope this enough to encourage you to get this book, and hopefully to buy it at Hearts and Minds Bookstore. Like at least one of the essay authors, I have never visited the store, nestled in a small town in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania. However I’ve met Byron presiding over truly impressive tables at a couple of conferences and witnessed first hand his ability to listen to someone and then recommend what he thinks are the best books that person could read related to his or her interests or questions. I’ve also ordered books from him, which always come carefully packaged, and speedily shipped. Many of you have discovered this blog on his Hearts and Minds Facebook page where he graciously permits me to post reviews. We share a love of connecting people with resources they might use to think and grow “Christianly.” I also look forward to reading his blog, BookNotes, which puts me onto worthy books I’ve missed. I ordered Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, after reading about it on BookNotes, and it was one of the finest books I’ve read in years!

This is the closest I get to contributing an essay in tribute to the important work Byron and Beth have pursued so faithfully for over thirty years. I salute Ned Bustard and Square Halo Books for putting together this delightful festschrift. And as you think about the books you would like to add to your “to be read” pile, I hope you will do what I have so often urged, and “buy them from Byron.” That would be fitting tribute, indeed!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


How I Save Money On Books

Some books I got for free--look for reviews here!

Some books I got for free–look for reviews here!

It is only shameless to borrow ideas if you do not give credit. I came across this idea the other day on the blog site of another book blog, Fiction Book Review. Citra posted fifteen ideas for non-book review blogs. There were several ideas I really liked so you might see my own take on these in coming weeks.

So here are some quick and easy ways to save money on books:

  1. Of course the library is the most economical option of all. You don’t even have to think about storing the book after you’ve read it.
  2. There are a huge number of books available via Kindle, Nook, Google, and other sources like Project Gutenberg and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library that are free because they are in the public domain. There are also some free new releases–although I won’t vouch for the quality of those! Amazon Prime members get to select one free new release for their Kindle reader each month.
  3. Borrow (and return!) books from friends. Most friends are glad to see their books get a second reading and if you return them (unless they explicitly give the book to you), you are likely to be able to borrow more.
  4. Hang out with people who give away books. I’m one of those and I am good friends with others who do the same. Recently, I was at meetings where a speaker (and friend) was giving away books on race and ethnicity. I picked up two after waiting for others to grab them!
  5. Enter book giveaways. BookRiot and Goodreads are two sites I know who routinely give books away.
  6. Review books. If you are an established reviewer (with a blog or other review platform), you can request books for review, sometimes in print and often via e-galleys on Netgalley and Edelweiss. You must be prepared to read them in short order and write a review and usually post it not only on your blog but on commercial sites like Amazon.

All these are in the category of free. Sometimes, you may need to pay a little to acquire books you want, particularly if they are recent releases.

  1. Friends of the Library book sales. Often books are for sale for $.50 or less, and many times at the end of the sales you can buy as many as you can stuff in a bag for $5 (or whatever ridiculously low price they set). And the money supports the library. Only danger is buying books you’ll never read in large quantities.
  2. Thrifty Christian Reader is a site that posts the latest deals on e-books both from a Christian perspective, and other worthwhile literature. Recently I learned of a sale of University of Chicago e-books through them.
  3. Of course, used book stores are often a great place for deals. Unless it is a rare book or a book in high current demand, you should be able to buy the book for half price or less. Many have bargain bins and often I’ve made great finds there. One man’s trash…
  4. I hate paying full price for a book. Often at places like Barnes and Noble, you can find books on sale, and combine sales prices with coupons and membership discounts. Last year, I bought Thomas Piketty’s Capital at under half price new.
  5. Of course there are various online booksellers from Amazon (you can find them) to ABE Books and Half.com (now under eBay). Many of these connect buyers with third-party sellers, often selling out of print books at reasonable prices.
  6. Develop a relationship with a bookseller who stands for things you stand for. I admire the work of Byron Borger and Hearts and Minds Books. He offers discounts on featured books, though not usually as deep as the big booksellers. I’ve bought some of these and always have been happy with the books and the speedy shipping.

This last won’t save you a ton, but what you spend will not only allow you to acquire books you want but to invest in booksellers you believe in.

Perhaps the real issue is that when you get good at this, you are tempted to acquire (hoard) far more than you can read. But that is for another post!

Books for the Bibliophile in Your Life

People in my family have this dilemma. Given how many books I have and read, it is hard for them to know what to buy me short of asking.

That may be one way of finding out. If you don’t want to give yourself away the trick is being indirect, and probably far enough away from the time you are giving the gift that they might not remember. Asking them about what they’ve been reading or what kinds of things they like to read might give you some clues of genres to look in. Family members of the person may be of help if they know the person’s habits and don’t mind that they are a bibliophile!

If you have access, you can always try snooping around their homes and seeing what books they have. The challenge here, of course, is remembering what they have, and more importantly, recognizing what they don’t have, and all of this without being obvious. If you are a fellow bibliophile, they will totally get your book-snooping. Chances are they do the same at your house!

Once you have an idea of genre or genres in which you are looking, get some help. A good bookseller is a great resource at this point. In many cases, what you probably want are new titles that your friend may not yet have acquired, particularly if they like to wait to pick them up in second hand shops, a habit of many of us bibliophiles. They can point you to recent releases, particularly ones that have gotten a lot of notice or good reviews. This probably won’t be as cheap as Amazon, but this kind of service is worth extra, particularly if it is offered by an indie bookseller!

There are some indie booksellers that focus on particular genres. Friends who want to buy me theological books, for example, might not get much help at the local B & N. But if you contacted Hearts & Minds Books (probably via the web) I bet you can find something (and the bookseller sort of knows me!). There are stores around for everything from mysteries to feminist literature. You may have to check online–they may not be in your hometown.

There is some help online as well. If you have purchased on Amazon, you know you can create a wish list. Did you know you can also look up the wish lists of your friends? Of course, this presumes that they have created a wish list and it is current and that their name is not really common, like “John Smith”. To do this, just go to your wish list and you will see a box in the upper right hand corner that says, “Find Someone’s Wish List.”

You might also consider social media. If the person is a Facebook friend, their profile may show what books they have read. If they are on Goodreads (and you are) you can see what books they’ve read by genres and their favorite genres (or shelves). Some users also have a “wishlist” shelf. You can also look at their top-rated books and click on the book which takes you to the Goodreads page for that book and look in the upper right corner at the “Readers Also Enjoyed” recommendations. While Goodreads provides recommendations for books you might like based on what you’ve read, they don’t yet do this for your friends (I’ve suggested it!).

My son wins the award for the best book gift. For my birthday, he bought me A Heritage to Share: A Bicentennial History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio. He knew I was blogging on Youngstown because I grew up there and like all things history. He went to Acorn Bookshop here in town and found this book. Little did he know that I had been in there and had seriously considered buying it, had leafed through it, and put it on my mental “sometime” list but passed up the temptation.

How have you figured out what books to buy your bibliophile friends?


Blogs I Follow

I just created a “widget” for the blogs I follow and thought I would tell you about them.

The first is [BTW]: Ben Trube, Writer, written by my son who is my mentor when it comes to this thing of blogging.  Ben is a software developer who has recently released a book on Fractal Programming in several e-versions.  He has aspirations as a fiction writer and one of the things he does on his blog is write 40 minute stories.  We have some overlapping interests, particularly in the area of the move from print content to digital readers as an increasing or even primary way we read.

By Their Strange Fruit is a blog exploring various facets of racial justice and reconciliation efforts within the Christian community and is edited by good friend Katelin.  Her posts and her thinking constantly make me re-examine my assumptions and actions around these issues.

Hearts and Minds Bookstore in Dallastown, PA sounds like one of the most fabulous Christian bookstores you could ever visit.  I’ve never been to the store but have met the owners, Byron and Beth Borger at conferences and I so appreciate all they do to make thoughtful writing from a Christian perspective available to a wide public.  Their “Booknotes” blog regularly brings to my attention new releases to which I may want to give attention.  And almost anything featured is available for order at a discount.

The Englewood Review of Books, which I mentioned yesterday combines reviews of books with updates about discounted e-books available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Many of their recommendations are for Christian works but they also post reviews and links for other classic works, including many works available for free download.

The last that I will mention today is The Emerging Scholars Blog.  This blog provides lots of interesting articles, reviews, and reflections on living as a person of faith in academia.  I’ve had several pieces posted there.

So what are some of the blogs you are following?