Looking back across 175 “Home Country” columns, I note that it was only 14 months ago that I signed off on an article titled “An Ode to the Corner Book Store” in which I wrote feelingly about my passion for one of our country’s abiding landmarks; those humble archives of local and regional lore found in the small towns and villages of America. My favorite bookish haunts embrace such diverse way-stops as Woodstock and Brandon, Vermont, Damariscotta, Maine, Cedar City, Utah and the villages of coastal Oregon. In fact, featured in the 2011 article just mentioned were photographs of “Rainy Day Books” in Tillamook, Oregon, and a description of a real rainy day visit of discovery there.
Just weeks ago, I enjoyed a repeat visit there, and a reunion with Karen Spicer, that establishment’s devoted owner and “mother superior”. Same comfortable arm chair for book lovers; same library cat to spend time with; same shelves and table tops overflowing with titles new, old and rare. I was prepared for an hour or two of anticipated adventure.
But there was a low-hanging cloud waiting to spoil some of that, and I could feel its presence even before I heard Karen tell my wife that the store would be closing forever at the end of this year. Business had been falling off for some time, and the dedicated owner had been facing a losing situation while exhausting her own life savings in an effort to keep things going.
While it’s true that a sagging national economy has certainly been partly to blame, there is something more insidious at work as I see this same phenomenon taking place across the country as one by one these precious connections to our literary heart and soul close their doors. Just this week, I spent a contented hour browsing in one of the retail giants of the book trade only to notice that I was one of only a half dozen patrons doing so while others who had apparently dropped by for a coffee and sweet roll were far more numerous; in fact I had to search for a sales person to check me out.
Recognizing that I am something of a dinosaur from a fast-fading epoch and a mere observer in what we all realize is an electronic age, (with a perfectly good electronic device sitting largely unused in a corner of my office), I am saddened to see the passing of a time when real words written on real pages in real books I can hold in my hands were prized by generations who assumed it would always be so.
I find it is increasingly difficult to explain to those who have grown up with I-pods, blackberries, tweeters and a seemingly-endless selection of “aps” for their soon-to-be-outmoded “handhelds” why I find pleasure in a library of real books which I can see and touch and return to often and fondly and whose very presence in my place of residence helps to make a mere house a home. (I am presently reading a new book only weeks out of the print shop, and revisiting another which was a personal gift from a brother dated December 25, 1945!) I like to believe that some of the books I cherish most still bear the fingerprints of people I have known who are no longer with us, while marginal notes and hand-penned dedications testify of human connections which defy mortality.
I know books will always be with us, and I trust that in a free country we will always have access to recorded knowledge which can’t be easily edited or deleted. Still. . . I feel a profound sense of disquiet as a time-honored institution begins to fade. And I am sad to say goodbye to Rainy Day Books.
Rainy Day Books in Tillamook, Oregon is symbolic of small-town book stores across America.