During an intensely digitized week--as I monitored the iPad's debut, last-minute objections to the Google Book Settlement and the Digital Book World Conference--I also found myself thinking, for some reason, about Richard Brautigan.
I read "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" for the first time in decades. And as I was considering and reconsidering that word "quirky" and its relationship to indie bookstores (for the record, I never used the term to describe Brautigan when I read him in the 1970s), I recalled some lines from his novel, The Abortion: "The library came into being because of an overwhelming need and desire for such a place. There simply had to be a library like this." If you don't know about the library, you should. Now more than ever, perhaps, quirky may be a business model.
I mentioned last week that Kathy Patrick's Beauty & the Book, Jefferson, Tex., was high on my list of pilgrimage-worthy shrines to bookseller quirkiness. Subsequently, Kathy put the question to her fans on Facebook: "Is Beauty and the Book a quirky bookstore?" Among the responses:
- Quirky is good! Everything else is boring.
- Quirky fits, also unique, fabulous, outrageous, fascinating, inspiring, blingful and totally Kathy!
- It's the quirkiest! That's why the world loves it and you!
- Quirky beyond measure. And I mean that in a nice way.
Besse Lynch, events and marketing coordinator at the Bookworm of Edwards, Edwards, Colo., responded to the column by recalling her affection for the Bookmill, Montague, Mass., because "browsing the shelves felt like exploring in some long forgotten attic. There was nothing cookie cutter about the space or selection, yet it was somehow familiar and comfortable."
I asked her how that might translate into success for indie bookstores. "Quirky can be so different for different people," she replied. "I think of it as a feeling you can't find anywhere else, something unusual yet familiar, maybe nostalgic at the same time. In defining quirky in terms of a bookstore, it can mean at once being a place where a person feels like a unique individual, and a place where those individualities come together to form a cohesive community. When a person shops at an indie bookstore this is what they are looking for. Not a place where they buy a book and walk out, but a place where they buy a book and belong to community."
Can the "quirky" factor drive people away? "The trick is to define yourself as an individual while being careful not to exclude other individuals," she added. "The beauty of a truly quirky bookstore is that it must be accepting of the quirks of others." At the Bookworm, "We just try to do things that we are passionate about, and that have meaning within our community. We take our customer's needs and suggestions to heart and try to create an atmosphere that reflects the diversity of ideas that come into our store."
And, finally, is quirky something that can be planned?
Janet Geddis, who hopes to open Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., sometime later this year, observed that she wants her shop "to be well-organized, friendly and cozy, but I'd also like something funky or quirky that instantly sets it apart from other bookstores (and other businesses, for that matter). But I believe there's a problem with setting out to do something deliberately quirky: I don't want my design decisions to appear contrived or manipulative. When I think about quirky places I like to visit, the thing that has drawn my attention is almost always something that evolved organically."
She noted that genuine quirkiness seems "born out of true individuality. People haven't made calculated decisions to be strange in order to stand out. Instead, their oddities come straight from the heart. I'd venture to guess that the proprietors of Wild Rumpus [Minneapolis, Minn.] genuinely love animals and children--they didn't make a choice to sell kids' books in a store full of animals purely because it was a good business plan. Their quirkiness arises from their passions."
As Janet plans her bookstore, she already knows it will include "some surprising and intriguing elements in the design, but I can't yet know what I'll say, do, or create that will give Avid that quirkiness many of my future customers crave. I suppose this strange and appealing element will evolve naturally as my staff and I settle in and share what we love with our customers."
To paraphrase Mr. Brautigan, there simply have to be bookstores like these.--Published in Shelf Awareness, issue #1103.