Bookstores Are More Than Businesses

As a child, a book represented a chance to know people and cultures from distant lands. Or an introduction to real-life heroes who change the world. And there was nothing like the adventure of unexpected discoveries.

And though most of my childhood memories of finding books are rooted in public libraries, once I moved to NYC, local bookstores became truly magical places of quiet and discovery. And some of my most memorable and romantic dates were spent on rainy afternoons, pulling books of poetry and prose from shelves, reading aloud with delight and a shared sense of wonder.

That childlike sense of discovery still fills me up every time I visit a special place like the Strand bookstore on Broadway. But the Strand, and many other small bookstores like it are at risk of closing, squeezed by the pressures of this pandemic that has forced so many businesses to close.

The thing about bookstores is that they are more than businesses. They are more than places to wander and take a moment of respite. They allow us to gather, to discuss ideas with our neighbors — even if we don’t know their names. I was actually supposed to launch my new book at the Strand on May 7th, but this was early in the pandemic and the bookstore had no online capacity at the time. I’m grateful to Powerhouse Books, another amazing local bookstore in Brooklyn that stepped in and won’t forget that event with Jon Haidt.

And indeed, it is a privilege to be an author, and a joy to share my work with others through marketplaces like bookshop.org that support independent booksellers. I urge everyone to visit and support your local bookseller. And if you are looking for ideas of books to explore, I’ve included a list of a few of my more recent favorites from the regions in which I work.

Ghana Must Go — Taiye Selasi

Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi

Dust — Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

Burnt Shadows — Kamila Shamsi

The Palace of Illusions — Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

This is How you Lose Her — Junot Diaz

Forgotten We Shall Be — Hector Abad Faciolince

And I’ll cheekily add my own book, just in case!

Manifesto for a Moral Revolution — Jacqueline Novogratz

I also wanted to give a shout out to a few amazing indie bookstores that partnered with my team and me in launching Manifesto for a Moral Revolution when there was no way to physically host a gathering or keep a big pile of books on-hand for gatherers to peruse. Those events when we were making everything up and just doing our best, when local communities showed up just for curiosity’s sake, will stay with me for a long, long time.

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is not only that we are interdependent, but that we need each other in big and small ways. Now more than ever, our local businesses need our support.

Founder and CEO of @Acumen. Dedicated to changing the way the world tackles poverty. Learn more: www.acumen.org

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