If you’re like most readers, chances are the last time you discovered a great book by a new author it was because a friend recommended it. Maybe you read that book on an e-reader, or you picked up a used copy online or downloaded the audiobook. Maybe that’s how your friend read it as well. If so, chances are that neither of you realizes the key role independent bookstores played in helping that new favorite find its way to you.
An independent bookstore brings a lot to a city or a town: a showroom for the latest literary releases, an auditorium where authors share their work and meet their fans, a bookish environment in which to sip coffee and a fun place to browse in the 20 minutes before the movie starts. But what’s less immediately visible is your local bookseller’s expertise and influence when it comes to introducing great books to your community and, ultimately, to the world.
Name the last book you really loved — be it “The Help,” The Hunger Games,” “Like Water for Elephants” or “Game of Thrones.” The authors of all those popular titles and many, many more can testify that independent booksellers were crucial in moving their work from a sleepy shelf against the back wall to a stack prominently displayed on a front table. They’re the people who helped Harry Potter take off. Local booksellers know their customers better than any computer program, and when they press a book into the right hands, insisting “You’ve got to read this,” their recommendation really counts.
So even if a friend was the the first one to tell you about “Seabiscuit” or “Cutting for Stone,” and even if that friend heard about it from yet another friend, most likely if you follow the chain of recommendations far enough back, you’ll end up meeting a bookseller, an independent bookseller. They offer a much-needed counterbalance to centralized corporate management and big-budget ad campaigns because they answer directly to us, the readers, the customers they see every day.
There are lots of reasons to support local businesses, whether it’s mom-and-pop hardware stores or neighborhood farmers’ markets. But when you buy from an independent bookseller, you’re doing something more. You’re helping to keep alive an important force in making our national literary culture more diverse, interesting and delightful. Your shelves are full of books that wouldn’t be there if not for indie booksellers you’ve never met, struggling to get by in shops you’ve never heard of. That’s why it’s so important to support the one next door.