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Five reasons to get your holiday gifts from a bookstore

Holidays at Brookline Booksmith. Used by permission.

Holidays at Brookline Booksmith. Used by permission.

In our January/February 2016 issue, Abby McGanney Nolan tackles a topic dear to my former-bookselling (and aspiring children’s-book-creating) heart. Her article “Shelf Lives: From Bookseller to Bestseller” features interviews with a slew of children’s book creators who got their start working in bookstores. Plenty of current and former Horn Bookers have also spent time as booksellers, and all of us feel at home among alphabetized shelves.

This time of year in particular makes visions of book displays dance in my head, and I’ve ducked into dear old Brookline Booksmith several times to pick up holiday essentials — and always ended up with things I hadn’t realized were essential until I saw them.

In case you’ve been missing out on the perfect place for gift-shopping, here are five reasons to stop missing out:

1. In a bookstore, you can sit down and test books out in real time. You can even take them home right away, and you don’t have to pay shipping.

2. You’re surrounded by people who are really, really excited about books, whose job it is to give you recommendations if you want them (and leave you alone if you don’t). These people inhale advance reader copies and discuss them fervently on their breaks. If your giftee liked one book, booksellers know of several good readalikes — and they’ll tell you how the books are alike and how they’re different.

3. Websites *ahem* can give you age or grade recommendations in the form of numbers. Booksellers can tell you what those numbers mean. Is the book violent? Does it tackle difficult issues? Does it have complicated vocabulary and sentence structure? Not all readers of the same age have the same needs. You know more than a number about the recipient; a bookseller knows more than a number about the book.

4. When you support a bookstore, you’re supporting a lot of good things. Like books, and jobs for people who are obsessed with books. Like author events. I met Ann M. Martin at a bookstore in 1994, you guys. No, you don’t understand, I met the creator of the Baby-Sitters Club series. Basically, I met the Queen of 1994. Because of a bookstore. Because people shopped there. And I know that other bookstores gave other lucky kids the same opportunity, because there’s photographic evidence in Nolan’s article.

Sorry, got sidetracked a bit there. (Have I mentioned that people who work or have worked in bookstores are often really, really excited about books?) What I meant to say was…

5. Bookstores often do good things for their communities, including but not limited to, creating magical meet-the-author memories. They do food drives. They serve as hosts for World Book Night. They engage in friendly competition to sell diverse books. When you buy your gifts there, you give another gift — you help this sort of thing continue.

Yes, if you go to a bookstore (like any store) right about now, it will probably be a little crowded. But you’ll encounter booksellers with lots of sugar-fueled energy. You’ll find stocking stuffers at the register while you stand in line. You may even find kids around the age you’re looking for who can give you a general sense of what books they like. (I’ve seen this happen. It’s adorable.)

And hey, if you prefer a quieter shopping environment, bookstores are still there, and a little less frenzied, the rest of the year.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.



  1. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    As a former bookseller myself, I like this post by The Flying Pig’s Elizabeth Bluemle: Naughty or Nice: A Customer’s Guide. Excellent advice!

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