The shelves are beginning to show some empty spots now and there are stacks of pallets lined up for shipping things away. There’s a sign in Hastings’ front window announcing something I never wanted to see. “Store closing,” it reads; the number of days that I can visit my favorite bookstore and coffee shop are finite.
Though I faithfully visit, though I’ve roamed the aisles and brought stacks of tomes home from there and sipped coffee on its plush couches and used its quiet ambience as a second office, I feel that I am partially to blame.
I own a Kindle, and every time I download a collection of words from the comfort of my recliner I steal revenue from the stores that need my money for their lifeblood. A book is a precious thing. But my house overflows with them.
Space has become an issue. Relative cost has become a factor. So often I find something to read on my slim plastic piece of electronics. But bookstores are dying. And I am so sad.
A book is a friend to a lonely child, and I grew up in a village with few youngsters in visiting distance and too many years between my little brother and me for much companionship. I learned to read early, and I made friends with A Little Maid of Old New York, and Betsy, Tacy and Tib and Nancy Drew.
I’d take those friends out to the bois d’arc tree in the backyard with a pickle and a peanut butter sandwich and visit with them for hours on a sturdy branch high above the ground.
I read a book about a little girl who hid under the flowing branches of a weeping willow tree to eat her sandwiches and read, and I thought how lovely that must be to look up and see patches of sky between those delicate branches. My tree was coarse, and “horse apples” are not good to eat.
My mother already had a master’s degree when she decided to earn a librarian’s certification. One summer when I was about 10, she took a course in children’s literature and tasked me with reading the 50 or so books for the course and synopsizing them. I read to my heart’s content and patiently wrote my thoughts on them.
We got an A on that course.
Then she became a school librarian and I learned about the Dewey Decimal System after school when I helped her shelve books. She loved the symmetry of a perfect line of tomes all pushed to the same level in perfect order. I loved the stories.
I ran out of books for girls in the small country library and moved to the shelves of baseball books and football books and stories of soldiers. I loved them all. Each one took me inside someone else’s life, into someone else’s world. And unlike the stories I now see in my job as a crime reporter, those always had a happy ending.
An unwise choice at an early age led me into an abusive marriage when I was too young to know what to do. I escaped into books until I finally matured enough to escape the situation.
I learned to love public libraries, and when I started at the University of North Texas, that huge palace of learning called the Willis Library sheltered me.
But then came the concept of the bookstore coffee shop, and I loved it!
I’d wander the aisles carrying a cup with a lid and enter a world of someone else’s making. There were cushy chairs tucked away in nooks where I could hide — just like in the bois d’arc tree at home — and lose myself in someone else’s imagination.
The baristas knew what I liked to drink and they knew I didn’t want whipped cream on top. They knew where I worked and they asked about my family. When my book came out in the spring, the manager invited me to sign Ladykiller there.
When Prince William married his Kate, I bought scones there and arose at 3 a.m. to eat them in front of the TV while a real fairy tale played out. I remembered Diana’s happiness when I watched her wed the ugly Charles and thought that not all such tales come to a happy ending. I wished Kate the best.
I’ve loved Hastings. But after Aug. 18, its doors will be locked and I will be bereft. There are other bookstores, I know, but they cater to a hipper crowd. I could visit the resale stores, but something in old books makes me dizzy and drives me out.
Where will I shelter to escape the mundane and enter a fable or a marvelous adventure? Where will I find true love or a scalawag or a new idea?
Maybe I’ll plant a willow tree in my yard.
DONNA FIELDER can be reached at 940-566-6885. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .