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Why I Went to My Local Bookstore When I Heard About the Newtown Shooting

December 15, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

When I heard about the Newtown school shooting yesterday, I think I reacted the same way as every other parent in America—with a passionate and immediate desire to drive straight to my children’s school, bring them home, line them up on the couch, and then throw my body over them. For the rest of time.

I didn’t, of course. For one thing, it would have scared them. For another, I was reasonably certain they were safe where they were. But how could I go on with a normal day when the very worst thing about being alive—the threat of suddenly and violently losing one’s children—was being played out in front of the nation’s eyes?

The answer is that I didn’t. Instead, I went to my local independent bookstore, which probably seems like an odd and maybe even capricious decision, and did to me at the time, as well. But I think I understand what was behind it. In the face of a most horrible and devastating story, I needed to be in the one place I knew that could not only accommodate that narrative, but would provide a kind of dialogue about it.

Book Passage is more than just a store. It’s a longstanding community hub, a place to grab coffee and talk, a locus for lectures, classes, and clubs. It’s where I used to go as a child, where I took seminars as an aspiring writer, where I’ve given readings, and shopped, and made connections with other writers. It’s part of my life, as necessary to me as the grocery store.

When I walked in, I was met by my good friend, Calvin, who manages events for the shop. He knows I have kids, and he, too, had heard about the shooting. He hugged me, and then we talked books, recipes, family, and discussed the merits and drawbacks of Christmas.

I ran into Luisa, the daughter of a famous local writer and a family friend, who also works at the store, and who, like me, has young children. We shook our heads, our faces long and worried, and wondered what would happen if book people ran the world.

Since I couldn’t go snatch my kids out of school, I began snatching books off the shelves for them. That novel my oldest daughter’s been asking for? In the basket. A book about trolls for my middle daughter? Yes. The Lego book of ideas? Why not? Books for my husband, a paperback for me, more books for the kids.

Maybe it seems silly. Maybe it seems like I’m trying to buy my kids’ affection, and, to be honest, I worried about that, but then I realized what was behind my book binge. When my kids got home from school, I knew I was going to have to tell them about the shooting. I just wanted to make sure that when faced with an unthinkable and awful story, they know there are a million other voices in this world, and that not all of them are evil.

A bookstore—a good one, at least—is far more than just a retail establishment. It’s a bank of the human condition. The shelves of Book Passage offer succor to the grieving, wonder to the jaded, advice to the confused. You can go in alone, and come out with an armful of company. If you are a regular, chances are you can walk in and someone there will be able to prescribe exactly what your spirit needs.

In a bookstore, you can find all manner of villains and heroes, both real and imaginary, in a tangle of interrelated pages. It’s a safe place to ask the big questions. Where does evil come from? Are heroes born or made? And most especially, in the face of something like the Newtown shooting, the simplest and hardest question of all: Why?

The children who died in the shooting had their life stories stolen from them. They were still at an age where magic could be real, where they believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Probably not all of them could read, but when they listened to a story, I bet they did it whole-heartedly, in the manner of all children, putting themselves right at the center of it.

May we all remember that lesson. May we all turn the pages of a book from time to time, walk a spell in one other’s shoes, and remember that but for the grace of God, we go there, too. Once you read a story, it becomes yours. What you do with it is up to you.

My prayers and thoughts are with the families of Newtown.

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