Eulogy for an Indie Bookstore

Sanctuary is a place of safety. But that safety can take many forms. It can be a place to escape the incursions of our daily lives, a place of acceptance, a place of discovery, and where our hearts find a home and our minds find peace. For years for me that place was a bookstore.

This bookstore fit the image of itself in popular mythology, a converted house of cramped rooms with floor-to-ceiling shelves, slanting floors, doors that stick, nooks for losing one’s self and crannies that brimmed with potential discovery. It was organized—each room representing a different genre (the cookbooks in the former kitchen of course and young adult logically progressing down the hall that connected the adult fiction and nonfiction to the children’s special place) but only just. The sheer abundance of literary output always seemed barely contained, on the brink of getting out of order, held in check by its loyal caretakers.

They too fit within the mythology, a family that had spent their lives around the written word: the curmudgeon with the booming voice and the hidden soft side, our nonfiction guide with an eye for the quirky; the quiet, serious reader who spoke volumes with a lifted eyebrow and was expert at the picking the perfect murder mystery or new Southern talent; the boisterous sister who commandeered the readers’ journey of her young charges with gusto; and finally and belovedly the mascot, a scruffy, salt-and-pepper small dog with her throne behind the counter.

In those moments of found peace, a sanctuary is also a place of momentous occasion, where milestones are met and remembered. To commemorate our first trip to the neighborhood fire station, my newly born son and I capped off our walk with a visit to the bookstore and purchase of Lois Lenski’s The Little Fire Engine, with the adventures of Fireman Small, which still has a spot of honor on the shelf. It is the source of countless Christmas gifts (Auntie Clauseand Olivia Saves Christmas!), birthday surprises (The Oxford English Dictionary for my 40th), commemorations for loved ones lost (Dog Heaven andCat Heaven, perfect for that particular heartbreak) and even our wedding registry (how else would one acquire a new edition of Janson’s History of Art?). And some of those occasions are momentous only in retrospect: the formal introductions to the frustratingly willing to kill off favorite characters Elizabeth George and Susan Hill; the breathtaking imagination of Carlos Ruiz Zafon; the exotic locals and intellectual exercise of Umberto Eco; and the incomparable wit and copious dead bodies of Andrea Camilleri and Reginald Hill—all met at the bookstore and now friends for life.

It is difficult for me to imagine this world, with its times of strife and sadness, without this sacred space. I will miss Thomas’s questioning my choices and offering me alternatives (and the occasional, dearly won compliment), Cheryl’s unerring recommendations and greeting of “I’ve saved something for you,” Eleanor’s exuberant laugh and shared enthusiasm for “grown” readers returning to the books of youth, and even though she has left us I still remember the first day Emma arose from her throne to meet me at the door and have felt her welcome ever since. Thank you Capitol Book for being my sanctuary, and that of so many others, for all these years. You will be missed.