I’m the product of a childhood spent amongst thriving independent bookstores. A Santa Cruz local, as soon as I was granted the freedom to leave Felton on my own in the form of a bus pass, you could find me haunting the shelves of Bookshop and Logos many an afternoon after school. Some of my closest friendships in grade school were formed over the course of long bookstore visits and much swapping of favorite titles. By middle school, I was frequently scolded for reading a fantasy book beneath my desk, and now as an adult, I simply don’t go anywhere without a book on my person. For emergencies.
Much of this was contrived by my parents. I was read to often at home, and every summer break throughout my childhood was heralded by being gifted a Summer Book Basket. Straightforward, this was a dozen or so books in a cute basket that I learned much later on were selected during a stop at Bookshop Santa Cruz to chat with the children’s booksellers about which children’s books were selling and what the booksellers’ favorites were. When I think about Reading As A Child, it is almost always titles from these baskets that come to mind.
Books, like all art, are life distilled into a more poignant form—a welcome escape from the day-to-day to-do list. The urge to tell and hear stories is so intrinsically human that it predates all of our forms of history, and in lieu of long winter nights around a campfire, books are the best way for us modernites to dive into another’s story. There’s as much value in reading the story of a character who’s completely different from you in totally different circumstances (Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina shook me to my core when I first read it; it still holds a dear place in my heart and is the basis for my understanding of what it means to be a person) as there is reading a story of a character going through something eerily similar to you (my first read of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day gave me the clarity and courage to leave an abusive relationship). I read so much these days that it borders on ridiculous, but I’m always eager for the next story, to see what happens in a new configuration of people and circumstances, to be shown something else true about the world that I wouldn’t have found on my own.
I frequently flit back and forth between lighthearted and bitterly dark stories, between high fantasy and stark reality, but regardless: At the end of the day, when all my responsibilities are squared away, I’m curling up with a book for the rest of the night.
Zoe Willats is the head of Bookshop’s receiving department. Read her book recommendations here!