“What we find in books is like the fire in our hearths. We fetch it from our neighbors, we kindle it at home, we communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”
In a humble northern New England farming locality, where there “were more cows than people”, there were no proper libraries or bookstores that a book-hungry, budding young writer Stephen King could revel in. There was, however, a single room in an old abandoned parsonage, where it had piles of decaying books.
Those moldering piles of books formed King’s early childhood — they were “boys’ books”, the kind that featured young boys as heroes in their adventures, like “Tom Swift” and “The Hardy Boys”.
But as King grew a little older, he started to feel that something was missing. While the stories were fun and exciting, something about them just didn’t feel right. Something was just wrong.
Somehow, King realized that “the kids in them were wrong”. He felt that the way children were portrayed in those books didn’t reflect how they would be in reality.
Fortunately, as King began to outgrow these books, his community finally had some form of a library. Once a month, a lubberly green van would stop in front of King’s school — painted on its sides in huge gold letters were the words “STATE OF MAINE BOOKMOBILE”.
The driver-librarian was a friendly lady who didn’t mind making recommendations. One day, she couldn’t help but ask King what he was looking for, after he spent 20 minutes rummaging through the Young Readers section empty-handed.
In response, King asked a question that would change the rest of his life — “Do you have any stories about how kids really are?”
The lady thought for a moment, then headed over to the Adult Fiction section. She brought out a hardcover copy of William Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies”. “Try this, Stevie,” she told King. “And if anyone asks, tell them you found it yourself. Otherwise, I might get into trouble.”
The novel, which realistically depicts the inevitably violent and primal nature of children, would inform King’s worldview and have a major influence in his writing style.
“It was, so far as I can remember, the first book with hands — strong ones that reached out of the pages and seized me by the throat,” King reflected. “It said to me, ‘This is not just entertainment; it’s life or death’.”
Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about books being a transformative personal experience.
But Stephen King’s story actually makes me think more about the relational experience that books can bring us — in other words, how it keeps us connected in understanding the world and ourselves.
And I believe this is why we still have physical bookstores around — especially ones that are independently-owned — and why you should support them more.
You might argue that it’s cheaper and more convenient to do your book-shopping online, and I agree with you. I get a lot of my books online myself.
But there’s something wonderful about lingering in a bookstore that you can’t experience online. And that is, the thrill of discovering good books that you might not have heard about before — and also, just a simple, genuine human connection that can’t be replicated or automized.
Any two people who have had their lives changed by books know that there isn’t a sweeter conversation than one about books or authors they loved. Nothing comes close to an hours-long banter over coffee when it’s simply about what your next read should be.
From interactions like this, a book breaks its bounds of being a mere solitary experience. Rather than only having your own life made better, other people can have the same experience as well. And with that, reading becomes the gift that it’s meant to be — a gift that keeps on giving.
An independent bookstore that I love frequenting to is one called Lit Books. I first discovered the bookstore on a random long drive three years ago — it was a shitty day, and I hit the road to clear my mind.
It has since stuck with me as one of my happy places. It’s the small things that make moments here particularly memorable — the smell of freshly-brewed coffee, the impressive personally-curated selection of books ranging from literature to philosophy, the exquisite literary merchandise that you just itch to buy when you see them, and the friendly owners who welcome you home and can often be seen drinking coffee and having hearty conversations with their guests.
In these moments, I’m reminded that a book is made great not only by itself, but also by your own stories, other people and their stories, places, and smiles that are attached to it.
Go ahead and visit a nearby independent bookstore if you haven’t. You just might find your happy place.