Letter from the Editor 02.22.2022
On neighborhood bookstores, escapism, and the value of reading
I used to spend a lot of time in bookstores—well, more like one in particular. Nestled between a consignment store and my mom’s go–to tobacco place was a used bookstore that had everything from history books about the Cold War (likely donated by someone’s grandpa) to trashy romance novels (courtesy of someone else’s grandma).
I would sit in the fiction section for hours, devouring anything short enough to finish there and taking home whatever wasn’t. The old man who ran the shop would always greet me with a smile and ask how my day was going, even if his deteriorating memory sometimes obscured my name from his mind. The faint smell of dust mixed with potpourri became my favorite scent in the world, and I would beg my mom to take me along on her weekly cigarette restock just so I could browse the shelves for 20 minutes while she did it.
When that bookstore closed, I cried. Not because I loved the location—truthfully, I didn’t care where the books were located. I was mourning the safety and tranquility I felt sitting between the stacks, the feeling of being immersed in a world so different from my own, even if only for a few hours.
As I grew up, reading transformed from a tool of escapism to one of reflection. I became a nonfiction junkie, reading everything from pop feminist texts to critical theory to self–help books. But hunting for these titles at the chain book retailer that replaced my favorite local shop wasn’t the same, and I slowly stopped going at all.
I’ve always felt that reading is a deeply introspective practice; it forces you to process your emotions and think about your own life in ways that few other mediums can. And as much as I joke that the internet has demolished my attention span, I think the real reason I read fewer books is because I feel more comfortable in my identity than I did as a child. I don’t have to rely on novels to validate my deepest thoughts when I am finally able to say them aloud.
Honestly though, I don't think I ever stopped reading—I just started reading different things. Some of my favorite pieces of journalism are thousands of words long—feats of attention in their own right. Much like a biography or memoir, a long profile is an unparalleled glimpse into another person’s inner world, but with the added color of little quirks that only a writer might notice.
That’s what I hope this issue of Street—and all of them, frankly—can offer. Our feature seeks to answer the question of what radical neighborhood bookstores have to offer in the digital age, digging deep into the origins and futures of four local bookstores. A piece about fanfic lets us understand why an oft maligned genre of writing means so much to so many people, and our profile of Williams Cafe here on campus gives a behind–the–scenes look at something many of us take for granted.
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