The independent bookshop is one of life’s purest joys.
As someone who has spent far too many hours in bookshops, I have no qualms about making a statement as grand as that. Bookshops are a haven for any reader, a place of wonder, a place of comfort.
But unlike chain bookshops, where layouts and stock are replicated from store to store, indie bookshops have a quirky individualism, a certain charm and character that brings you back for more. You get to know the people, they get to know you. You can wander about in the tangle of stories you didn’t even know you were looking for and feel entirely at home.
Whenever I feel not quite myself, it is a bookshop I seek out to make me feel better, the unique atmosphere of my favourite indie bookshops acting to soothe my nerves or make me feel calm. The sheer endlessness of possibilities a bookshop provides instantly makes my day just that little bit brighter. Buying books from these indie bookshops is like bringing home small pieces of sun to light my room, piecing together my own set of stars on my now overflowing bookcase.
The fate of the independent bookshop has been up in the air for some time now, with popular indie book hot spots closing their doors seemingly everywhere. With the increase in online book buying from popular sites such as Amazon or The Book Depository, indie bookshops have come under the possible and very real threat of extinction. With major chain bookstores such as Angus and Robertson meeting their demise in the last few years, it seems almost inevitable that one day we will walk up to the closed doors of our favourite indie bookshop and find it shut forever, killed by the ease of online book buying.
I won’t lie, buying books online is sometimes easier and cheaper than physically buying books instore. I am a huge culprit when it comes to buying from The Book Depository. Getting books in the post is very gratifying.
But still not as gratifying as a bookshop.
Much like the fear that the rise of e-books seemed to cause, it would sometimes feel that online book shopping is presented as a fear of change, as an aversion to the new technological world, as fear of the new and the different.
I think this drastically misrepresents the attachment readers feel with their bookshops. Readers are not ones to become utterly entrenched in the past – if they were, new releases would be a total waste of time. People don’t go into bookshops because they see them as antiquated spaces. Sure, there is an element of nostalgia there, but it is a nostalgia for more recent and personal feeling, the opportunity to relive the excitement that comes with finding some little gem that you weren’t even aware you were looking for, something new and shining and brilliant. Celebrating bookshops is not a condemnation of online book shopping, it is merely sharing an especially intimate relationship with the stories and opportunities that these spaces provides.
The independent bookshop is a strange phenomenon, but a beautiful one, one that needs to be preserved. Projects like Independent Bookshop Week and Books are my Bag are taking positive steps to save local bookshops from extinction, however they don’t seem attract a lot of attention in Australia, potentially causing irreparable harm to the Australian Indie Book Industry. Australian publishing houses rely on these bookshops to share local fiction and non-fiction, along with other specialty publications that chain bookshops are not generally interested in. To remove the indie bookshop from the industry is to remove the potential for these unique publications to find their way onto the market and into the hands of readers. The end of indie bookshops could so easily spell the end of unique literary publications and their creators, which could only be seen as a terrible loss for the wider creative community.
My favourite indie bookshop, Gleebooks, is one such space. I have found so many little independent book, poetry and short story publications in Gleebooks that I have never seen in a chain bookshop. To think that if Gleebooks were ever to shut, I would lose access to this range of unique literature, is devastating. That bookshop is my second home, and I have always found the very best books there, along with recommendations from the people who work there that never fail to stun my imagination and devastate my bank account. For the online book buyer, they, like many indie bookshops these days, offer online purchasing options, allowing readers the convenience of online shopping alongside supporting local business. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the magic and light that Gleebooks holds for local readers – it is the best collection of pieces of sun I have ever come across.
Considering not only the physical space that indie bookshops foster, but also the unique literary spaces they develop and maintain, it goes without saying that these places of wonder are central to the world of the book industry and are clearly valuable to writers, readers and wider creative communities. I’d rather not see them die out, and I don’t think you want to either.
© Hayley New 2016