Bookmarking Indie Bookstore Day

indie bookstore day 2In honor of Indie Bookstore Day on Saturday, our own Craig Popelars — Algonquin’s director of sales and marketing and the best friend a bookstore could ever have — reminisces about his local childhood bookstore and the bookstore legacy he’s passing down to his daughter.

Canvas the bookshelves at my home, and a stray bookmark from The Little Professor Book Center in Troy, Ohio, will eventually come tumbling out of some book — a copy of Terry Brooks’ The Elfstones of Shannara, Allan W. Eckhert’s The Frontiersman, Madeleine L’Engle’s The Arm of the Starfish, or Walter Dean Myers’ The Young Landlords — childhood books I refuse to part with.*

CraigPoplars_school.jpgPractically once a week when I was a kid, I opted to pedal four miles on my trusty Montgomery Ward bicycle to get lost in the books at The Little Professor. I could have wasted my meager 12-year-old’s allowance and countless hours standing alongside my friends at the Kroger, watching quarters disappear into arcade games like Centipede, Asteroids, and Tempest. But neither my allowance nor my time ever felt wasted when it was spent at the bookstore. The owner, Michael Cram, would always greet me by name — after all I was an esteemed member of the store’s frequent buyer program — and recommend a book or two. (In one embarrassing incident, he completely busted me for thumbing through explicit passages in Judy Blume’s Forever. “Craig, I know your mother and I don’t think she would approve of you reading that.” Censored and shamed, I limped back to the sci-fi section and begin awkwardly thumbing through the Piers Anthony selection.)

My childhood had two opportunities for escape from the drudgery of home, school, church, and swim team practice: the Little Professor and the woods and creek that cradled our neighborhood. I spent countless, happy and adventurous hours getting lost in both, but when I returned to my hometown after being away for thirty-two years, only the bookstore remained. Michael Cram sold his Little Professor years ago, but the store still welcomes readers today as Jay & Mary’s Book Center just down the road from its original location. The woods? Apparently you can squeeze a shitload of poorly-constructed, cookie-cutter homes into ten acres, give it an Arthurian-sounding name like Gray Hawk Court, and call it a day.

papertowns bookmarkA few nights ago, I checked on my daughter Maddie while she slept. Beside her in bed was John Green’s Paper Towns. The bookmark from Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill was sticking out and the sight of it brought a wave of nostalgia over me. The adventure, the discovery, the possibilities, that sense of place and belonging that came with entering The Little Professor in Troy, Ohio so many years ago. Bookmarks indicate where we are, where we’ve been and what remains.

Knowing that my childhood bookstore, my daughter’s childhood bookstore, and hundreds of other amazing independent bookstores continue to thrive brings an overwhelming sense of hope, gratitude, and the notion that just maybe, all is right with the world.

Quietly, I slipped the bookmark out of Maddie’s spot in the book and slid it back in, more toward the front of the novel. It’s my way of reminding her that it’s OK to get lost in a book.

*I’m sure that there’s a Little Professor bookmark still inside my copy of the original Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide, but my so-called childhood friend, Eric, still refuses to part with it, vehemently claiming that we went halfsies on that treasured purchase back in 1979.

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