This is some sad, sad news: The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, SC is closing.
Words can barely express the role this store has played in my cultural life. Virtually every book I've purchased in the past 20 years has been from this place. Every time I've wanted a new book or given then them as gifts -- which means every Christmas, birthday, anniversary, baby shower, you name it -- the Happy Bookseller is the first place I've called.
I bought everything from them from War and Peace to The Anatomy of Melancholy to Clarissa to The Fuck-Up. I think I ordered the last one simply because I thought it would be fun to receive a call that it arrived.
For book lovers, the place is a dream. Well-stocked in every category -- not just the usual high and low fiction but all the smaller categories like criticism, history, poetry, drama and religion. You can tell a bookstore caters to broad and intelligent tastes if it has a strong poetry and criticism section.
The same goes for the people. I don't think I ever made a purchase there without having a discussion about it at the counter. The place is run by people who read a lot more than popular fiction, and they're always interested in what you buy and why. They love browsers. They love conversation.
The most interesting conversation you'll ever have with a clerk at B&N or Books-A-Million is whether you have one of their supersaver cards.
I once ordered a copy of Paradise Lost from a B&N and I was asked who it was by. Then I was asked if John Milton is a current author. This is the kind of depressing chat you would never have at The Happy Bookseller.
As we are now in the last half of 2008, perhaps I can be forgiven for hoping that the store had weathered the continuing onslaught from big chains and the Internet. Where other stores closed one by one -- and when I moved to Columbia 25 years ago you could find them all over the place -- the Happy Bookseller happily if no doubt wearily continued to keep the doors open. They trusted, as a lot of what are now called brick-and-mortar businesses continued to do, to believe that service and a personal touch and the genuine thrill of being around all those thousands of tomes would save the day, that there would still be enough regular customers who still liked doing business the old way.
I came to believe that every time I bought a book there was a vote for independence, against big business, and maybe a Luddite's reaction against the Internet.
It's some kind of statement on the times, I guess, that buying an actual product from an actual human being actually feels revolutionary.
My idea of a good Saturday has always involved stopping by the Happy Bookseller to get a book, stopping by Papa Jazz to get a CD, and stopping by the Nicleodeon to watch a movie.
I think those Saturdays are going to be pretty limited now. I hate myself every time I use iTunes.
I've used Amazon.com exactly three times in life and I guess I'll be using them more -- which I hate. Even with the savings, it's a weak substitute.