The Book House
(This essay was originally written by Michelle Barron, owner of the Book House, as part of our currently running Kickstarter Campaign. If nothing else, I would add my personal reason for preserving bookstores - like so many things we only recognise in retrospect, the world would be a poorer place without them. )
We have been asked "why support a bookstore"? Isn't it a dying industry with "everything" on the internet and ebooks and a changing world and economy? Are bookstores a thing of the past? Should't we just give up and sell everything for pennies on the dollar, probably putting lifetime collections in the recycling bin . . . After all you can just google whatever you want. Or find it for a dollar on Amazon. Why hold on to collections of books? Are we just obsessive hoarders?
Well I could get all sentimental and bring up all the tired old arguments about the "smell" of old books or how they look nice on a bookshelf and nothing like holding a book in your hands. And there is also the "educational benefits" of a community bookstore, "cultural" events, a place to gather and celebrate the love of these unique archival objects called books.
But is that really enough? If bookselling was such a good business model why is it so rarely profitable? Why can't we get a loan? Why do we need help to open up a new location for our bookstore?. Why pay to move, store, and reinforce floors to hold 250,000 books when it costs so much? Why, if so many people love books and bookstores (which we hear everyday) are so many stores struggling and closing? Why are libraries throwing away books at record levels? Is it just a matter of supply and demand? Are books worthless or over priced and we should just sell them as cheap as possible like so many widgets? Does nobody want them anymore? Perhaps bookstores are just "showrooms" now, museums of the past like horses and buggies
I would argue that it is much more complicated than that. In some sense bookstores are the canaries in the coal mine of serious changes in our economic value structure. Cheap goods, produced by cheap labor, huge companies, box stores, distribution channels, etc. But I'm not going to ramble about that ( although there are many points to be made on that subject) I'm not an economist, just a business owner trying to work on margins, and pay bills, and manage day by day.
But here is an undeniable fact. Books are not only conveyors of information and stories and ideas, beautiful art and memories, but they are very definitely tangible OBJECTS. Books are heavy, they are dense, they cannot survive water, dampness, bugs, or fire. They are perishable, but given proper care can outlast a lifetime, and often survive for centuries. Books carry smells, can mold and oxidize. They hold the DNA traces of former readers. They are made of trees. They are organic, alive, they breathe, they rot, the can turn back into dirt, they are recyclable.
Books take time to "digest". There are good books and obsolete books, rare books and worthless books. They take time to catalog, to process, to tell the difference between them. You really cannot "judge a book by its cover". Books need to Be INTERACTED with to have value. Books need time to be discovered and shared. They need quiet places. Sometimes a great book or author can linger for years before finding its reader...
A pile of old books is very hard to deal with and often takes more time to pack, carry, sort, store, catalogue, shelve, display, locate, research, and maybe eventually read then it's "monetary" worth. And the reality is that a bookstore usually needs to carry 100 books to sell one. That turnover rate would be a dismal failure in any other "widget" industry, but that's the reality. Not because no one wants the books but because matching books to people is unique and it takes time. Different readers like different things at different times. The exact same book can be worth 50 cents or $15 depending on the place and situation where it is sold. A book in a pile of boxes is a bargain that you stumble across, a book that is exactly what you were looking for right now, is worth quite a bit more. Part of the art of Bookselling is trying to "predict" what people will like and investing in the "right" stock which changes constantly. A good bookstore houses, orders, processes, and displays many types of books tying up thousands and thousands of dollars in the hopes of selling a fraction of the stock. Books are NOT like commodities that must turnover every 6 months or be thrown away. Often books actually ripen with age and become more valuable over time.
But we are in a throwaway culture where everything has a dollar value - time, space, information, and objects. And a rush to cut costs. Virtual objects are "cheaper". They do not have to be moved or stored, they don't cost money to make or use up raw materials to produce, the can be easily shared or purchased in seconds, etc. Wheres, "real" objects, especially archival, older, heavy, fragile, or not easily disposed of items are expensive. They clutter our lives, cost to store, move, or dispose of. They take up our time. They take up room on a small planet. So logically books are doomed. Right?
I would argue with a story. Books (and bookstores) are either Worthless or Priceless depending on who holds them or the world one wants to live in. I compare a large book collection to a White Elephant or a Siberian Tiger. These animals are beautiful, irreplaceable, and Endangered, Rare. There is the classic story of African rulers giving a Precious White Elephant to another ruler as a sign of great respect and power, but giving them to an enemy because the animals cost more in upkeep then their "value". It is an interesting comparison with not a small amount of parallels to your grandmothers book collection ! But take the story further. There are many things in our culture that are "too" expensive - that cost a lot to keep - historic buildings, wilderness areas, art, beautiful places, family farms, free time, many of the beloved things from our past are now "too expensive". Real elephants and tigers, as well as many other unique animals are almost extinct because it doesn't make economic sense to preserve their habitats. Many of the worlds most precious resources are being destroyed or abandoned, or are dying because no one cares enough to preserve them. Does this now include bookstores too? Do you really want to live in a world without bookstores, or are they a community resource that should be preserved and cherished for the next generation to experience and enjoy. We cannot do this alone. Thank you for supporting our Kickstarter, please spread the word and support bricks and mortar bookstores in your community.
Anyway, I hope I haven't bored you with my rambling. Perhaps it can spark some discussion. Please let me know what you think. Please help us continue our work. Thank you.
-- Michelle Barron, bookseller
Post-Dispatch: Book House Poised for move to Maplewood
The Book House - One of Missouri's Most Endangered Historic Places in 2013
As you may already be aware, The Book House is being forced to move to a new location very soon, as the building owner has sold the property. Many people have been asking us WHERE we are moving and WHEN. We have still not finalized our negotiations for a lease on a new space yet, but hope to make an announcement very soon. We have been working hard to find another place in the area that has the character and feel of our current location. We want this new building to be a place we can grow and take The Book House and Second Chapter Center to the next level as a great Independent bookstore and community space with lots and lots of books, great staff, great inventory, great events, community participation and room to build for the future. We have received so much support and encouragement from everyone, it has been quite overwhelming. Thank you everyone who has helped with fundraising and outreach so far.
Here is what we can tell you: We have a space in mind that is bigger than our current location but needs a LOT of work to make occupiable. We are planning to move in stages - Phase one: Moving a lot into storage so we can concentrate on our build out. Phase two: We will be fixing up the new building to meet occupancy and code compliance so we can pass building code and operate a retail storefront by the holiday season. It will probably be pretty barebones and bohemian for a while. Phase Three: We will start working on the larger space, reinforcing walls, painting, flooring, remodeling, and fixing it up for event and book group space as well as better display, building shelves, designing, painting, flooring, etc. Its going to be a long term transition so please be patient with us. In the meantime, our Internet store operations, booksearch, and mail order will remain unchanged and available throughout any down time. You may always reach us by phone or email.
We will remain open at our current location AT LEAST through July 31st. Also we are negotiating with the building owner and Great Northern Development for more time and hope we can stay open and operating an additional two or three months (through Sept) while we are working on the transition, but this is not finalized yet and subject to change.
Here's where you can help - We just got a big truck trailer, which is parked behind the bookstore and ready to start packing up with boxes this week! We can use lots of volunteers to help move boxes. (Must be able to lift a 40 lb box with ease) We are currently working on clearing our warehouse and books that are in storage so minimal "packing" is involved. Its basically heavy lifting at this point, but lots of hands make lighter work. If you are interested in helping please give us a call!
We are just getting started, so will probably be using packers and movers for quite a while. Let us know what you are available to do, and we can fit you in as we move forward. Once we get into our new location, we will need people with construction skills, painters, flooring, building bookshelves, etc. We will be working with licensed contractors, especially for the plumbing and electrical work, but if you or someone you know has skills to donate, please let us know. We will also be looking for lumber, lighting fixtures, and building materials.
Our first online fundraiser raised over $5000, which is great, but only a drop in the bucket of what we are going to need for our move and build out. Please stay tuned for another online fundraiser soon, and in the meantime, we will still take donations at the shop. So come visit, take pictures, buy some books, and help us with the transition to our new location.
Thank you very much for all your support so far!
Sunday, July 7th 2:00pm - Our First Volunteer Day!
Here's where you can help - We just got a big truck trailer which is parked behind the bookstore and ready to start packing up with boxes this week! We can use lots of volunteers to help move boxes. (Must be able to lift a 40 lb box with ease) We are currently working on clearing our warehouse and books that are in storage so minimal "packing" is involved. Its basically heavy lifting at this point, but lots of hands make lighter work. If you are interested in helping please give us a call! We are planning a "work day" on Sunday, July 7th starting at 2:00 pm. (We will be clearing out all the boxes in the basement, so wear work clothes and be prepared to get dirty).
If you are wanting to volunteer on other days, please contact Michelle or Katie with your name or email. 314-968-4491 or email@example.com
The Book House - One of Missouri's Most Endangered Historic Places in 2013
[30th April update: We've been mentioned on boingboing.net, and an article by Robin Tidwell]
Well, it's been a busy weekend.
For those of you not aware of recent events, a quick summary. Last week we let everyone know that a developer had plans to demolish The Book House to make way for a four story storage facility. This, to say the least, was upsetting.
What was comforting to find out was the sheer amount of support and messages we've gotten since letting everyone know this. Our Facebook page has been filled with messages from local customers and businesses, people have been
Happy Birthday to Terry Pratchett, who turns 65 today. Before the advent of JK Rowling and Harry Potter, Terry was the singlemost bestselling living author in the UK, and is the only author to have gotten a map into the number one bestseller slot. Despite suffering from a rare form of Alzheimers that leaves him unable to type, Terry continues to produce novels via dictation and word-recognition software, and recently started a collaborative series of novels with Steven Baxter.
April also marks the 30th anniversary of his best known works, the Discworld series, set on a flat world which sails through space on the back of a giant turtle. What started as a gentle parody of traditionally fantasy works like Fitz Leiber and Robert E Howard has, over the years, become more of a mirror to our own world, and the humour has only gotten better and better. The fortieth book in the series (yes, that's four-zero) is due out later this year.
Many happy returns to Terry and the Disc!
We mentioned this on our Facebook page, but just in case you weren't aware, today is the last day of our clearance booksale. There's still some great books available, but today is the last chance for a while to fill a bag for $10. We're open till 8pm, so stop by!
To celebrate National Poetry Month, the Book House is holding an Open Poetry Reading Night on Thursday, April 11th, at 7pm!
Feel free to stop by and read a few of your own poems, or just come and relax and listen to local poets.
The event is free and open to the public; All ages welcome!
I read a lot. I tend to have at least two books on the go at once, sometimes three or four, and flip between them haphazardly. My tastes are fairly wide, and I consider myself pretty well-read.
Or I did, until I started working at the Book House.
I was always notionally aware that were an awful lot of books in the world. The last person who could make a reasonable claim to have read all the books that were available to read in the world was probably Benjamin Franklin; the sheer volume of works being published have overtaken the amount that any one person could read in a lifetime a long, long time ago.
Consider this. I'm 40 years old at the time of writing. I could reasonably expect to live another forty years, lifestyle withstanding. That's 14,600 days of life left (we'll not count leap years). If I could read one book a day, every day, for the rest of life, that's just under 15,000 books I could read.
That's about 1/4 of the books we have catalogued online at the store. And under one tenth of the books we actually have on the shelves. What we have in the store, of course, is a small fraction of the books currently in print. Which, in turn, is only a small fraction of the books that are out there, in print or out of print.
Even though our store only has a 'mere' fraction of the books in the world, they're still a very physical reminder that there an awful lot of books available. New visitors tend to boggle at the shelves and shelves of volumes, reaching from floor to ceiling, covering every wall (and often expanding out and claiming floor space). These are books that, in a very real sense, are sitting there waiting for you to pick them up and read them, like a polite reminder that you had something you were meant to be doing.
And working in such a place, of course, means you're confronted with all these expectant books every single day. It's slightly unnerving. It makes me want to complain to the management. Not the management of the store, but the management of Life, the Universe, and Everything. I feel like I should get a couple more centuries to make some headway on all these stories. Were there a Heaven, I would expect it to have very full bookshelves. I would find it hard to consider it heaven if it didn't.
In more reasonable, down to earth terms, I'm not trying to read one book a day every day for the rest of my life. I have signed up for a challenge of 75 books by the end of the year at Goodreads. This seemed a reasonable figure to try, and so far I'm not so terribly behind on my schedule.
I'm certainly not lacking for suggestions for what to read while I'm working at the store, and the books are coughing politely, tempting me to take them home.
2013 Reading Challenge
read 9 books toward his goal of 75 books.