Today, coming home from a lesson with Kathy, I had a grand find. Several months ago, someone opened a little bookstore in a tiny, old church down the street from me. I’ve passed it several times, but assumed it was probably a Christian Book Store, buried in the midst of nowhere in a rural community that has more churches than gas staions and restaurants put together. Not the kind of place someone with my reading tastes would shop.
Today, I sailed past the store as I always do, but thought a bit of exploring sounded like a good way to avoid the work waiting for me at home, so I turned around in a church parking lot just past the gravel drive and went back. I figured, no matter what I found inside, I’d buy something just to support the tiny business. It never has cars in the parking lot, at least none that I’ve noticed. Actually, there isn’t a parking lot, just two empty grassy spaces under some Oak trees where you can wedge a car. Higdon’s Bookstore was once a small, white, one room church set back from the main road in a grove of trees, hardly a promising location for a fledgling business.
As I entered the small enterprise, I had to admit that looks can be deceiving. You should never judge a book (or a book store) by its cover. The shop was as quaint as could be. Imagine a fictional store in a sentimental movie striving to invent such a charming atmosphere it would make moviegoers sigh and say, “those were the days”. Anyone who loves books could lose themselves in the simplistic, non-materialistic atmosphere created in this old church. The walls inside were lined with wonderful used books of all genres and interests. There were sections for mysteries, romances and New York bestsellers, but a huge section of Georgia authors, history, non-fiction, and classics too. Two stained, well–worn chairs were set up in a corner inviting customers to sit and read and the woman sitting at the desk was as friendly and delighted to see me as my own grandmother would be. I noticed she was reading The Life of Pi, and couldn’t help but ask how she liked the story. Soon we were talking about all sorts of books and when she saw that I was interested in the Georgia authors, she mentioned that a few local residents were writers as well. She said she was always particularly delighted when they came in. Of course, this opened up a conversation about my writing pursuits and what I was working on now, and she was as encouraging and interested as a person could be. An instant fan and cheerleader. Only in Blue Ridge!
I have been going to the Margret Mitchell House to hear authors lecture for some time. Yesterday, I was scheduled to go hear Anne Rivers Siddons, but the event was canceled. I usually go to these things alone, because Mark is busy working and while I know he’d humor me and join me if I guilted him into it, the fact is, literary events are not really his thing, so I always invite, but never pressure him to go . This time, not wanting to spend another evening alone, I invited Denver. When I explained that she would spend the evening with posh Atlanta intellectuals, sipping wine and feeling ever so sophisticated as she listened to good literature, she was game. She even took off work. When the evening bombed out, she was actually disappointed, but I made arrangements to drag her next week to hear Charles Martin who will be promoting his new book, Where the River Ends. (It’s a remarkable book about a man (an artist) taking his fatally ill wife on a final canoe trip down the river to die, with disapproving family members in pursuit. They spend the journey reflecting on life, love and the world at large. If you love the concept of people taking a journey on the river, with the element of nature, family, love and art thrown into the mix– well this is one fascinating book. When I read the short description, I immediately bought the book and made arrangements to hear the author read. The storyline was very compelling to me.)
Anyway, I haven’t read Siddons material yet, and sure enough there was an entire shelf of her novels at the store. Since the author will rescheduled the lecture at a later date, I picked up several of her books. I also found a section of big print novels which my mother in law devours at the rate of three a week. I can’t seem to keep her stocked up no matter how I hunt for more reading material because large print novels are rather difficult to find, not to mention costly. I picked up several big print romances (her favorite) for a fraction of the price I spend even when I buy them used on Amazon. I couldn’t help but notice most of the novels I had to purchase for my masters were there, with titles by Toni Morrison and Alice Munro set up on shelves in positions of prominence. I thought, Gee, where was this store when I needed it? They may deal mostly in used books, but they don’t focus only on paperback gene novels or best sellers. It is a class act.
I found a book I haven’t read by Bill Bryson, (my hero) and eyed several others that I will come back for when I catch up on my ever growing “to read” pile. I spent 43.00 and came away with a grocery bag full of books. The woman working the desk encouraged me to bring in my books for trade. I warned her that I’m someone who could fill half the store if they let me, and she said, “We are hoping people like you will get involved in our exchange. Please bring in whatever you’re finished with.” She explained the store pays something for used books and puts the amount in an in-store account. You must pay ½ in cash for purchases, but your credit can be used for the rest. Sounds fair and economical for all involved. When I lived in New York and was too poor to purchase books at the rate I read them, I used to go to a paperback exchange with the same system. I loved it.
I could have stuck around for hours, but I had things to do at home, so I dragged myself away, knowing I’d return regularly. I’ll even bring my mother in law and let her pick some books out herself on Friday since I’ll be looking for something to do with her that day.
I have always said that what I miss most since moving here is a Barnes N Nobel. I love the windfall of books on display at super bookstores, love browsing for things I don’t’ really know I want until I see them. The problem with having to shop at Amazon (which has been my bookstore since moving here) is that you have to have an idea of what you’re looking for. This narrows your exploration somewhat. The adorable little bookstore I stumbled upon today is better than any big franchise could be in my humble opinion. It’s intimate, cost effective, and the friendly aura adds charm to the reading experience. I’ve always been one who hates the cookie cutter element of franchises, so I’m particularly enchanted by the uniqueness of a place like this. I love the independence of a single store without a conglomerate doing the thinking for it. I love that there is history in the building and the fact that someone who loves books chose to open against all odds in the middle of nowhere and has created a shopping experience like no other. All they need is a coffee bar to offer the perfect book browsing experience, but then, expecting a latte with a novel proves I’m a victim of social training, doesn’t it? Coffee in a book store is a distraction when you think about it – a vehicle to get people to come in and hang around for reasons other than reading. It increases the profit margin and the traffic, offering something to keep the non-readers busy while the readers shop. But it certainly has nothing to do with reading. Break the cycle of marketing hypnosis and consumer manipulation, I say! Who needs coffee at a bookstore? Anyway, if I really feel its necessary, I bet I could bring my own thermos, pull up a chair and share a cup a joe with the woman at the register at Higdons.
I love when you discover something special right in your own backyard – even though I kick myself a little for having passed judgment before seeing for myself what it was really all about. I hate discovering I’ve acted like some know it all, willing to condemn an idea before giving it a shot at success. If everyone thought like me and avoided going and to give this little store a chance, this charming place would be sure to fail. Shame on me. But I’m glad now something compelled me to go in despite my preconcieved notions.
Higdon’s bookstore is a delight. I deserve what I get for having missed out on this convenient, sweet book heaven these past months. But I know better now and I’ll make up for lost time, not only as a die-hard regular, but by telling everyone I know about it.
Consider yourself told.