An Ode to Curmudgeonly Booksellers
You can find them buried beneath stacks of books two stories high: the curmudgeonly booksellers, the last vestiges of gatekeepers to nostalgic old used bookstores.
They scorn technology with the venom of a thousand expletives and insist that words are only worth reading when printed on yellowing paper.
The curmudgeonly booksellers disavow organization beyond whatever non-standardized neural pathways their brains have come up with that, while making no sense to anyone else, allow the bookseller to know exactly what book is where and how many copies there are of it.
With the exception of maps and the occasional pastoral scene, they will put any books with pictures in the children's section.
They will complain loudly in the presence of potential customers when someone comes in to browse and, not finding what they want for the lack of organization, leaves without spending at least $5.
When you do buy a book from curmudgeonly booksellers, you will find the top of the pages dusty and discolored compared to the side and bottom of the pages. The curmudgeonly booksellers have no use for dusters or working air filters that could suck the old book smell away.
They resist the urge to cringe when an unknowing patron asks for something that was published within the past ten years, but despite their best efforts, their faces contort in disapproval nonetheless.
If you cannot converse intelligently about the literary exploits of at least fifty years ago---or listen quietly while the booksellers fill your ear---then the curmudgeonly booksellers have nothing to say to you.
They will lament the "death" of literature---not books themselves, but literature: the good, thought-provoking stuff that perhaps they themselves don't really understand yet believe is brilliant---while admitting that they only read classics.
They believe themselves martyrs for the printed word. The curmudgeonly booksellers hold fast to the belief that they are forever unappreciated by young people and that younger generations are missing out by not having read the same books they did at their age.
They hold fast to the belief that Amazon is what's killing indie bookstores---forgetting there are many indie bookstores that are thriving and ignoring what they can learn from those bookstores that have made themselves integral to the community they serve.
The curmudgeonly booksellers believe themselves the gatekeepers of a time soon to be called "bygone." They believe themselves to be the protectors of the era where printed books rule---the "good old days"---an era that, from the pit of their self-imposed martyrdom, they fail to realize has not yet ended.
The curmudgeonly booksellers forget that gatekeepers' doors tend to swing only one way. They forget that it is perhaps their curmudgeonliness, their entitled belief that their shelves full of dead white men should be enough to sustain anyone's reading habits, that is pushing them toward bygone times. Not e-readers, not Amazon, and not a lack of readers among upcoming generations of young people.
Many times I have read about nostalgic bookstores in novels and many times I have been disappointed when visiting one in real life.
For all the times I've visited a nostalgic bookstore and been made to feel inadequate for not having read Silas Marner, and for all the times I've been talked down to as though my love of reading was a passing adolescent phase, I'll raise a glass to the curmudgeonly, old-fashioned booksellers. I'll not toast the memory of them, but rather the furthered egalitarianism of reading that comes with the future.
I won't forget the curmudgeonly booksellers, but I will not miss them when they're gone.