Staff Picks

In Praise of Good Bookstores

Emily Porter

April 15, 2022


In Praise of Good Bookstores is a wonderful read for all lovers of books and all of those who make books their calling, a thank you to the hardworking booksellers of the world for doing so, as it makes our lives more enriched.

In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch, Princeton University Press 

In a past life, I used to move all over the country for my work, and when entering a new city there were always three things I needed to find before I could try to make myself feel at home: A café with the perfect vibe, a yoga studio, and a bookstore I could get lost in for hours. Like many of you reading this, finding a good local bookstore is important for me to feel like part of any community I find myself in.  

When growing up, I used to frequent Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop (yes, the bookstore Porchlight was founded in) with my mother. I would wander the aisles getting lost in the enticing covers and pages, ready to jump into the next world until startled by my mother ready to check out and go home. As an adult, local bookstores have been my havens. They are the place I escape to no matter what my mood. Perusing the aisles of stories, voices, and innovative ideas can cure any sadness or create an even brighter day. Once the cover closes, I feel like I am still with the friends and landscapes I just came back from. 

The right book at the right time can change our lives, and books have saved me more than once. The same is true of booksellers, so I especially am grateful to the individuals who make our favorite places possible with the challenging work they do behind the scenes, bringing in coveted new titles alongside the classics that line their shelves, impacting our lives in the process. 

Jeff Deutsch wrote In Praise of Good Bookstores as an ode to those who keep our havens from falling. It is a love letter to booksellers who cared about books so much that they built bookstores even though the business is rarely lucrative. It is always for the love of books. As a bookseller himself, Deutsch draws on his experience as director of Chicago’s famous Seminary Co-op, where books have been sold since 1961 and which became a not-for-profit bookstore in 2019. But he also taps into the histories of other book connoisseurs and booksellers, speaking about what makes a good bookshop, exploring elements like how store design affects the browsing experience. He writes that the ideal “layout is designed for those who want to be so encompassed by books as to feel swaddled in them.” I couldn’t agree more. I have also always partnered, in my mind, the act of reading books with the act of eating, to almost devour these words and stories, gaining knowledge like good sustenance, or opening a different world within one's own mind. So I was happily thrown back into this association with Duetsch’s association: 

Books, like the leaves and shrubs known as the browsage, provide ruminant-readers with their nutrients. What an unparalleled activity it is to browse a bookstore in a state of curiosity and receptivity, chewing one’s intellectual cud! 

Deutsch ties his love of reading to his upbringing as an Orthodox Jew and examines how the act of reading and the act of browsing are both a meaningful part of life. He believes that bookstores will be around for a long time, and offers this book as a cry to support your local booksellers in a world where everything can be bought at the tap of a finger, because a well curated and designed bookstore can open up far more possibilities in our minds than an algorithm online. 

In Praise of Good Bookstores is a wonderful read for all lovers of books and all of those who make books their calling, a thank you to the hardworking booksellers of the world for doing so, as it makes our lives more enriched.  

(Deutch will be in conversation with one of our own local bookstores—and partner of our new interview series—Boswell Book Company on April 25th with owner Daniel Goldin. Click here to register for this in-person event.) 

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