A Great Good Place

In Musings on April 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm

One of my favorite places to bring my netbook and work when I’m tired of being the house-bound freelancer is my local independent bookstore, BookSmart. When my husband and I moved to our “new” town 5.5 years ago, knowing nobody, after six months of isolated work-from-home and no social life, I took a part-time job at Booksmart to stave off a desperate lonlieness. (In the photo, that’s me in the blue to the right, and one of the owners, Cinda, to the left in the black t-shirt and long hair).

Not only did working there assuage the hollow feeling of being temporarily friendless, I quickly saw that BookSmart was a hub for the community—a resource for teachers, a respite for tired moms who could let their wild toddlers run rampant in the toys while they combed through the recommendations; a meeting place for retired ladies and singles to have coffee; a place for teens to hang out without causing chaos; and more, of course.  It seemed so essential to the people who came on a regular basis, and myself.  Am I just a special breed of bookstore lover, shaped by a childhood in which my single father took me weekly—sometimes several times a week—to one of three bookstores in our Marin county home? I can still vividly remember the mold-and-ink smell of the used bookstore, BookSmith, in San Anselmo, can still orient myself to the far left corner, up one brown-carpet covered step and to the right of the bathroom, where he stocked the hard-cover Nancy Drew mysteries I was allowed to purchase.  Do I just have a special place in my heart for these shops?

Then I think back on a big topic of conversation floating around in my liberal arts major back in college in the 90s, that of a “third place”—neither work nor home—where people can go, in fact NEED to go to fulfill other social and personal needs; “anchors” of community life  that “facilitate and foster broader, more creative interaction…” as posited by Ray Oldenberg in his book The Great Good Place.   Independent bookstores—notorious for being peopled with eccentric, down-to-earth folks and funky little cafes—are classic third places that fulfill a need, one that is enhanced by the presence of all that knowledge, stored between paper covers, hovering just in arm’s reach.

As accepting as I am about the inevitability of digital publishing, of the slimming reality of print books, I have to admit that if the rise of digital publishing signals the end of my most favorite third place, it will be with great mourning.

What’s your favorite third place?

  1. This made me reflect on The Green Apple in SanFran & Copperfield’s in Sebastopol. I wonder if cafes will become this place?

  2. Do you know I used to work at Copperfield’s in Sebastopol?

  3. I love this post, Jordan. I just rediscovered BookSmith’s charm the other day. The children’s section is really lovely. Fun to think of you climbing that single step — it’s still there — as a tyke.

    I often coach my clients to find and claim a “third space” for themselves but I didn’t have a word for it until now. (Thanks.)

    I often work and write in a nearby cafe even though I have a perfectly lovely office nearby. It’s the joy of companionable solitude, I suppose, plus the chance to enjoy the rhythm of the place. I know you know the place…it’s where we met by chance that day. 🙂

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