Published to coincide with independent bookstore week (and preview a forthcoming book of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage), Ann Patchett’s ‘The Bookshop Strikes Back’ is a singular essay packaged in much the same way as Richard Ford’s tribute to Raymond Carver, ‘Good Raymond’ – and arguably as affecting, in its own way.
Patchett was prompted to act by the closing of two profitable independent bookstores in Nashville, where she lives, providing the finance and acting as a silent partner on a new venture, Parnassus Books, gets off the ground. But ‘The Bookshop Strikes Back’ is not (or at least not entirely) the story of how author Ann Patchett came to open a bookstore. It is also a celebration, familiar to those of us who cut our reading teeth wandering around bookstores that didn’t live or die on three for two deals or whatever Richard & Judy were recommending that week (I still recall the joy of finding Brautigans and Bukowskis on weather beaten shelves that could just as easily give you a splinter as a good read).
Undoubtedly we live in an age where bookstores are fighting (and dying, in some places) – fighting Amazon but also fighting the easy value of 1p books and free postage. Yes, the book argues, quite possibly you have to pay a little more – but you get recommendations, you get experience and wisdom, you get to feel part of an actual reading community, you get to see where books breathe. There is also a flipside – a flipside I’m sure hardworking bookstores not payrolled by Ann Patchett keenly feel. How marvellous to have a spare $150,000 to bankroll a labour of love – what a shame we all don’t have a spare $150,000 to establish said labour of love and then use the platform from our dayjob to tell readers that they should be willing to pay a little more for books.
This gripe runs along the faultline of the argument – I’m sure there are few people who would argue against the existence of bookshops. At the same time, though, in an age where pennies are having to go further and further and luxury items such as books (I say luxury items – if you’re like me, you couldn’t live and breathe without knowing a book was nearby but you get the point) continue to cost what they do, the battle between physical bookstores and Amazon will rage on – and for this reader at the very least, my heart is in one place (the bookstore), and my coinpurse is in another…
Any Cop?: An enjoyable call to arms, albeit from a rather monied platform.