I recently spent a weekend in Seattle, a preholiday getaway to celebrate the end of demanding work schedules for my husband and me, and to encourage some quality bonding time for our family. We arrived late Friday night to a city bedecked in holiday lights and abuzz with festive energy. The next day my teenage son and I headed to Capitol Hill—I, drawn to its reputation as a young, edgy neighbourhood that is home to Seattle’s music, art and alternative culture scenes, he to the hip stores selling skate and street clothing.
As we strolled along East Pike Street, popping in and out of stores, I soon had that slightly nauseous feeling I always get when I experience too much material excess and witness the slavish devotion we often have to the cult of consumption. My discomfort reached its zenith when my son and I encountered a long lineup in front of a clothing store. The store itself was open and largely empty, yet dozens of shoppers stood complacently in the pouring rain awaiting their turn to be admitted. All were hoping to be one of a lucky few to purchase a pair of new Air Jordan running shoes that were being released or “dropped” at noon that day. As I stood watching one young man count a fat wad of cash, I simultaneously noticed two men of a similar age across the street. Presumably homeless, they lay sodden and half-sheltered beneath a recessed entryway.
While my son was happy to be part of the buzz and wait around in the rain chatting with the locals until he could get inside the store, I had an almost visceral need to get away so left in search of a quiet coffeehouse nearby. What I found instead, to my delight, was the venerable Elliot Bay Book Company.
While I freely admit my bias for a good bookstore, on this particular pre-Christmas shopping day, the stately independent book seller felt like a sanctuary. Walking through its lofty, wood-adorned aisles filled with avid readers instantly reconnected me to all that I cherish: literature, art, ideas, knowledge, dreams and possibility. In a world that sometimes seems to have gone mad with what we wear and how we publicly promote ourselves, this quiet contemplative space dedicated to expanding the unpublished interiors of our minds felt priceless.
Wandering the incredible expanse of books would have been gift enough for me that day, but the bookstore had another treat in store. As I perused the “Outdoors” section for something for my avid wilderness-loving hubby, I discovered copies of Into the Abyss on the shelf. What’s more, as I worked my way to the back of the spacious and stately space, I found the coffeehouse I’d been searching for.
So for the gift of its robust existence, I give thanks to The Elliott Bay Book Company and to all independent bookstores everywhere. I also echo the sentiment of bestselling author and bookstore owner, Ann Patchett:
“If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”
PS. I bought two books for my hubby that day. Both are amazing gems I’d never before heard of.