In his essay entitled “Beneath the Smooth Skin of America,” Scott Russell Sanders eloquently writes about the growing homogenization of American culture. For example, we live in a world of corporate entities and online retailers. If you walk into a Target store in Anchorage, Alaska, it’s likely to look very much like the one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, or Portland, Maine (or wherever you happen to live.) If you stroll through the aisles you’ll find some great stuff, but none of it is going to remind you where you are, or reflect the unique ground you’re standing on.
In like fashion, if you wander over to Amazon.com you will in all likelihood find what you’re looking for. It'll be affordable and will be delivered right to your door, but shopping online––as I often do––is a profoundly sterile enterprise. Think of it this way: if you’re shopping online you can’t physically see or touch the goods. And you don’t have the luxury of engaging a salesperson in conversation—whether it’s chitchat or purposeful. So in essence you've lost your senses (or at least you've handicapped a few of them.)
We're losing our sense of place.
That’s why it’s so incredibly refreshing to encounter a place of business that’s rooted in the local ether. Book People in Austin, Texas is one place you can go to get a good taste of what Austin's about. The independent bookstore has been around since 1970, and has morphed and grown as the city has expanded. But it’s never lost its essence (which is unfortunately more than I can say for Austin. I get to say that because I’m a native.)
Book People is a little self-contained oasis that radiates the Austin-y vibe that most people try and manufacture. It’s funky. It’s creative. It’s communal. It’s a place you could easily linger in for an entire day.
One thing you'll immediately discover about Book People is that the folks who work there love working there. They are voracious readers who love to tell others about wonderful books. This is a common scene within the store: shelves lined with employee reviews.
Book People offers an impressive card and gift selection, and it's not kitsch. If you're looking for unique stuff you can't find anywhere else, this is your place.
You can't meet one of your writing heroes at an online bookstore. Book People provides a steady stream of author appearances and lectures, which draws scores of enthusiastic readers who love to geek out on the same genres that you do.
The store is set up with various reading nooks where you can sit down and comfortably sample your finds.
Music isn't the only discipline that yields rock stars. Check out Book People's gallery of authors. And the baskets and tables set up along the stairwell? They're full of trinkety treasures.
Book People loves kids. They offer summer reading programs, a literary camp, various contests, and even host birthday parties! And did I mention their awesome toy section?
This is from a recent display that was set up around John Green's The Fault In Our Stars. Young readers were encouraged to inscribe paper stars with what they cared about, and then the staff hung them all from the ceiling.
Blue Dog painted at Book People by the late, great George Rodrigue in 2000.
Yes, it's true. You can take your kids to the bookstore and let them attend an event or shop for what's next on their reading list. While they're doing that, you can get a chair massage from Renew Massage. Oh yes.
Great little coffee shop tucked away in the back.