A couple of days ago, my wife went to Searsport to attend her organization’s board meeting. During a break, she and some of her board members decided to check out the town. One of her colleagues said, “I feel like going to a bookstore,” so they went to Left Bank Books, an independent bookseller on East Main Street in the heart of the sort of quiet business district you’d expect to find in a coastal Maine town of 2,600 residents.
My wife went into the store with dim hopes of finding a suitable gift for me. Without too much prompting, she will tell you that I am a frustrating person to purchase books for. I don’t wait for holidays. If I see a book I’m interested in, I buy it. It’s a sickness I can’t help. The effect of this disease on my poor wife is that she has to work far harder than any human should have to work to get a gift for her spouse.
When she and her board members entered Left Bank Books, she instantly felt at home. This, she said, was exactly what a bookstore was supposed to be. You walk in on a real wooden floor. The many shelves made of pale oak were packed with books. Table displays angled books toward the door, but not the titles you usually see at the front of a store. There were table lamps everywhere, and the pleasant smell of new paper.
The store had plenty of copies of popular novels, but it also carried obscure titles you rarely find in even the most diverse collections. My delighted wife found a Penguin paperback of Kokoro, a 1916 Japanese novel by Natsume Sōseki. Most chain stores would not have this title on their shelves, but Left Bank Books did. Certain that she had finally discovered a novel that her husband hadn’t heard of—she was right—my wife snapped it up.
I’m told that the woman at the register was “unbelievably pleasant.” She welcomed my wife and her colleagues with a warm smile and chatted with them as if they were old friends. As the woman rang up the purchases, which included a copy of Leo Lionni’s Swimmy for our three-year-old, my wife told her that she was impressed by their large selection of hard-to-find books. “It’s nice when people notice that,” the woman said. She thanked my wife for coming and seemed genuinely grateful that she and her board members had stopped by.
This is why we need independent bookstores.
Update, June 30, 2012: Check here for an update on Left Bank Books and other great bookshops in our area.