06/25/2010 02:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The End of the Bookstore?

Some said they would disappear, be out-boxed by the big-box bookstores in the twentieth century, or outmoded by digital books in the twenty-first. And yet here they are, a smaller cadre than 20 years ago, to be sure, but still here.

Welcome to your independent community bookstore.

For a generation and more it has been difficult to survive selling books out of a storefront. And yet, the independent bookstores that have survived still do. Today, on the precipice of digital-book free fall, many in the book industry wonder --again-- if bookstores will go the way of downtown horse stables.

I'm rooting for the horse stables.

Thus it was a joy to hear the winning authors of the American Bookseller Association's Indies Choice Book Award -- Jerry Pinkney, Judith Viorst, Suzanne Collins, Rebecca Stead, David Grann, Kathryn Stockett, Abraham Verghese, and others -- tell of how much they owed their success to their local bookstore. How these stable keepers listened to readers and made thoughtful suggestions, and on more than one occasion recommended a horse that gave a ride of a lifetime.

Kate DiCamilloThe author who raised the most hearts to throats was Kate DiCamillo, the author of The Tale of Despereaux. She told the audience at the ABA award luncheon in New York this story:

When I was in second grade, I fell in love with Abraham Lincoln.

The Clermont Elementary School library had a series of books called Notable Young Americans. And in this way, through these books, I met George Washington and Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart and Booker T. Washington.

I met them and I liked them.

But it wasn't until Abraham Lincoln that I fell in love.

Something about his story (the poverty, the death of his mother, his love of words and books) resonated with me, moved me. I came home from school and told my mother everything that I had learned about the young Abraham Lincoln. I told her that I wanted to learn more.

My mother took me to the Cooper Memorial Library in downtown Clermont. They had there many books about Honest Abe, but there was nothing written for a reader my age. And so my mother checked out a thick volume on the life of Abraham Lincoln written for adults. The text was impenetrable. After a few pages, I gave up on it and contented myself with looking at photographs of the man, his sad and hopeful face.

That year, for my eighth birthday, my mother gave me a hardcover biography of Lincoln called Meet Abraham Lincoln by Barbara Cary. It was written at my reading level. There were wonderful illustrations, and I was smitten with the man anew.

Where had my mother found that book? At Porter's Stationery and Gifts in Eustis, Florida. Eustis was the next town over from Clermont, thirty miles away. At Porter's, they had looked for a book about Lincoln that was at my reading level and they had special-ordered it for my mother, for me.

Also, they had told my mother that there was another book I might like. It was called The Cricket in Times Square. And so, in addition to a book about a poor, lonely boy who went on to become president of the United States, I also received the story of a small cricket who loves music, a cricket who sings so beautifully that people stop to listen.

Who was that bookseller who thought, "Here is an almost-eight-year-old girl who loves Abraham Lincoln. What other book will she love? Oh, yes. This book about a cricket."?

There was nothing logical about that decision. It was a leap of faith.

Those two books changed me.

Together, they cemented an idea in my eight-year-old heart. That idea was this: It doesn't matter how small, how lonely, how broken or sad or poor you are. There is a way to make yourself heard. There is a way to sing.

A bookseller put those books into my mother's hands, and my mother put them into mine.

Sometimes we forget that this simple, physical gesture can change lives.

I want to remind you that it does.

I want to thank you because it did.

--Kate DiCamillo*

How about you, dear reader? Is there still a place in your reading universe for a bookstore? I'd love to hear your story. J

*Copyright 2010 by Kate DiCamillo. Reprinted by permission.