Pandemic, Survival, Racial Justice, Books of the Day, and Now We Are 91
This is the first newsletter we’ve produced since the world was changed by pandemic earlier this year and writing it was not easy. Our culture is stretched with conflict, insecurity and division and I have lost faith in national and local leaders and the ability of American institutions to steward us sanely through this turmoil.
The doors of our bookstore have been closed to browsers since March 28th and present infection rates for CoViD19 would make the so called “peak” measured in April and Utah’s responses laughable if they weren’t so tragic. For April and May, Catherine and I worked six days a week, without pay, simply to fill phone and internet orders for curbside pick-up or mail to keep the bookstore viable. In June, we increased staffing, first with the help of our daughter Lila, and shortly thereafter with one or two others each day. We have maintained these slim staffing levels with several staff members returning one or two days weekly noon - 5:00, seven days each week. We have succeeded in keeping staff healthy and we are determined to keep expenses within prudent ratio of our reduced sales.
We have been grateful for the support you have given us in letting us serve your book needs in this most extraordinary and uncertain time. We monitor the advance of the coronavirus and are not predicting when our doors may reopen. What is certain, is that our decisions will built around safety of staff and customers based on epidemiological and medical metrics. Independent bookstores, like most independent businesses, operate on slim margins under shadows of large corporations whose discounts are subsidized by complexities of stock trading versus genuine operational profits. While we are eager to readmit browsers into our bookstore, we will be careful to not permit expenses to overwhelm the sales we will be able to receive. We are recipients of a PPP loan but those funds will be exhausted quickly if we increase staffing and hours and are not compensated with sales. You are reading this because you are a supporter as evidenced by being on our mailing list. I do not enjoy asking, but if stores like ours are to survive the pandemic and post-pandemic period, we need support. We urge you to help acquaintances who buy from non-local online sources to redirect their purchasing to us and other local businesses. It may be the difference between our failure and our survival.
In August we will mark – can’t say celebrate at this time – our 91st Anniversary! I am so distracted by the worries of the era that we haven’t planned particular commemorative events – surviving is the highest hope we presently hold. I am enveloped in the heritage of our bookstore and enjoy being a member of the tribe of readers whose culture is not constrained by geography and time. By the age of 30, I was no longer able to account for myself or my beliefs without reference to the books that shaped me. When asked whence I come, I have taken to answering, “Bookstore” as though it is a place on a map. With the vast knowledge of the human race reminding me daily of things I don’t know well, confidence in my knowledge grew slowly. After 40 years in this environment, I accept that we booksellers do not sell only books, we are vendors of knowledge, history and dreams; purveyors of story, art and progress; catalysts for ideals, justice and maybe revolution. As I watch over-confident culturally narrow leaders bungle the concerns of our time, I lose fear of promoting honest principles of progress. The ones I espouse are built on the wisdom of well-chosen books from broad fields.
Positive change must be envisioned before it becomes real. The best thinkers’ ideas propagate by mediums that contain their discoveries and hopes. There are reasons why empowered members of society punish writers and educators; and ban and burn books.
Not enough of us read books. Fran Lebowitz’s quote reproduced in the 2016 Indie Bookstore Day stencil expressed the idea well: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.” There is no better way to refine your sensibilities than by reading. Readers choose their influences from the most refined versions of humanities' best thinkers and boldest dreamers.
Reading trends since the outbreak of CoViD 19 has been fascinating and encouraging to watch. If the books read by too few of us say anything about the future, I we can be hopeful. Older minds lose flexibility but reading, meditation, travel and psychedelics help to counter the trend. Nonetheless, adults should listen well to the voices of young adults. Their flexible minds and stakes in the future must direct solutions to our present crises in particular, racial justice, climate change and economic disparity. If you defend a principle simply because you held it 25 years ago, you are possibly part of the problem.
I haven’t read all the following books, but here is a short list of books that have been most requested in the CoViD19 era. Some of these may shape society of our near future. Besides these, we have seen surges of interest in books on gardening, raising chickens, baking and fermentation. Topics such as economics, especially Marxism and socialism have sold well too. While the pandemic dominates our concerns, the urgency of justice in race relations has reached heights that hopefully will lead to changes that will enables us to finally overcome the toxic prejudices of our history.