Despite predictions that digital publishing would lead to the demise of printed books, the form is alive and well. The adverse effects of the digital revolution have instead led to the demise of bookstores. When Borders closed its retail locations, it was a real wake-up call for the industry, but it was particularly jarring for readers. The tactile experience of reading a real book begins with the experience of selecting one. The joy of wandering the aisles and reading a few pages of several books is an experience lodged in our memories, and it is slipping away. But last year I found a secret bookseller. I’m sure he doesn’t relish the idea of it being a secret, but the shop is slightly off the beaten path. I found Blue Plate Books.
Now before you start railing at me about other bookstores that are still operating, stop. I’m no snob. I’ll duck into Books A Million and peruse their offerings and am happy to support them, but there is definitely something different about Blue Plate. I noticed it on my first visit. My wife and I had an evening to ourselves, and on our way to dinner, we spied the store. We were both English majors in college where we met and have an affinity for used bookstores, so we ventured inside. When we walked in I immediately noticed something odd. Many of the same books I own or have owned lined the shelves of this store. You see the owner doesn’t simply buy used books in bulk; he curates them. He goes through the books people bring him meticulously looking for good books. Whether they are comics, cookbooks, history or fiction, he has developed a standard he judges books by and it creates a very appealing selection.
The second thing I noticed was the established order. I have been in used bookstores where stacks of unsorted books teeter as obstacles throughout the space and make it impossible to find anything (I’m not mentioning any names here). The Blue Plate is more like a library.
The overall appeal is tough to do justice to, but on my last trip, I overheard an exchange that helped put it in perspective. As I sat between the stacks thumbing through a book, I overheard the following conversation at the register.
Customer- “I remember when I was a kid, I loved comic books; I would read them all the time. Then one day my uncle Earl gave me a real book by Jack London. It was…”
Cashier – “White Fang, Call of the Wild?”
Customer – “Yes that was it, Call of the Wild. I remember looking at it and opening it, and there were no pictures, but since my uncle Earl had given it to me, I was going to read it. That was it for me. That’s all it took. I have been a reader ever since.”
I chuckled because I have never heard of that kind of exchange at other bookstores. It was a spontaneous expression of affection for the special outpost that the Blue Plate has become. It is a haven for readers.
You can get directions and find out more at their website.