I found my first girlfriend after college in a bookstore. The details of that story are pretty PG-13 so I won’t go into it right now. The most exciting part of that story is the bookstore itself, Charis Books and More in Atlanta, now officially the oldest feminist bookstore in the South. After our first fateful meeting (me and Charis), it was pretty obvious we’d always have some sort of connection.
Before moving to Atlanta, I was an avowed book nerd. I read all the time, had a favorite chair in my local library, and always had a book-in-progress at my bedside. My greatest ambition then was to have a home with built-in bookshelves in every room. Yes, even the bathroom. So, it made perfect sense to me that after finding out where all the gay bars and neighborhood libraries were in my new town, I’d seek out a bookstore.
For the sake of transparency, let me confess that Charis was also listed as super gay, and so I was excited to get both my lesbian and book fixes in the same place. The bookstore was hard to find (hidden behind a Japanese maple tree, behind a dumpster, behind a sports bar) but once I got there, I never wanted to leave.
But over the course of LOTS of years, I did leave. And come back. I’ve yo-yoed between Atlanta and other cities maybe half a dozen times, and each time I rushed back to that bookstore and to the people there who had welcomed me into their communities when I first moved there as a fresh out of college lesbian, ready for life in a big city.
When I first arrived in Atlanta as a wide-eyed twenty-two-year-old, I didn’t think of the larger picture–of the importance of queer spaces, lesbian spaces, of feminist and/or independent bookstores. All I knew then was that I had a second home. A place I could go at any time and feel welcome, find something to read, and usually also find someone to talk with about books or whatever was percolating in my mind at the time. As a young, lesbian who’d moved alone to a new city, the bookstore was a sanctuary and a safe place. And occasionally, the place I picked up women. Naturally.
Once I started my career as a writer, I realized there was another important role of Charis and other independent bookstores. Even though, while working at the store, I often “hand sold” titles to customers looking for their next read, I didn’t know at the time how invaluable that was to an author. When someone knows and loves your novels and they work in a bookstore, they will tell every (appropriate and sometimes inappropriate) customer how amazing they think your books are. Multiply that one passionate reader/bookseller by hundreds and thousands and you can see how crucial it is to have that intimate connection.
Basically, I love indie (feminist) bookstores and you should too.
A few weeks ago, I realized I’d been in Atlanta for twenty years (gasp!) and also been connected to Charis in some way for twenty years as well. First of all, where did the time go? And second, I’m how old now? With all that time passing by when no one was looking, Charis will celebrate its 45th year in business. The store will mark that momentous birthday with a move to a new location in April of this year AND a big party. If you’re in the Atlanta area and are looking for another place to call home – or just to find a good book – drop by. We’ll be sure to make you feel welcome.
*I love alliteration and groups of things in threes. Even when it doesn’t make sense*