Recently I finished reading The Sentence by Louise Erdrich and Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan. Both books are about bookstores, the people that work in those stores, the customers that visit the stores, and the folks that own the stores. Erdrich, along with being a Pulitzer-prize winning author, also owns an independent bookstore, Birchbark Books, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Though Ryan does not own a bookstore, she has written several other books of her own.
Both authors do a masterful job of creating and centering the story in and around the bookstore. Why are books about bookstores so magical? I am not sure I have a solid answer, but somehow bookstores manage to take us into other lands, and these two books remind us of that magic. The moment we walk through the bookstore door, a portal opens to a world of imagination and possibilities. A space dedicated to the power of story thus becomes a space held for powerful connections and changes to happen in those spaces.
On a recent visit to Broadway Books, I noticed the moment I walked through the door my system calmed and the worries I walked in with melted away. Bookstores also create a center for community, where folks can gather spontaneously or intentionally and talk about the ideas and scenes that moved them in their favorite books. Erdrich, in The Sentence, even goes so far as to write herself into the story, but centers her story around Tookie, who works at the bookstore, and the ghost of a former customer that refuses to leave the bookstore. Also set squarely in the middle of the pandemic, as well as the the center of the largest social justice movement in history after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Erdrich creates such vivid characters that you cannot help but fall in love with them. Does Tookie rid herself of her ghost? I’ll never tell.
Ryan, on the other hand, writes about a struggling bookstore in a small village in England in Christmas by the Book. Her story centers around a family-owned bookstore struggling to pay back taxes that might force them to close the bookstore right in the middle of the Christmas season. The husband and wife owners, Nora and Simon, live above the shop. In an effort to dispense some kindness, despite their own hardships, Nora and Simon decide to ask for nominees, online, of local folks in the village who could use some cheer. Six nominees are chosen and six random books are delivered by Nora and Simon. On the night of their annual Christmas Eve party, the magic of these books brings the community together in ways Nora and Simon could not have foreseen.
I loved both of these books. Though they are different in every kind of way, what they have in common is the sense of community the bookshops in each of the stories engender, the people that inhabit these stores, and the magic of the bookstore.