Becker’s Books is a seemingly small bookstore a few lights south of my childhood home. I’ve driven past it for years and didn’t stop in until recently. The shop has an outdated exterior and is located by the side of a moderately busy road. The color scheme is a muted red and green, with maroon-ish wooden siding and a dark green roof and numbers indicating the location. Inside, past the entrance where a desk and register sit underneath a window, veering left, there are rows and rows of shelves and books. The shelves trail up the height of varying sizes of walls with books piled high on top of them, touching the ceiling. The abundance of books cannot be overstated. Books are stacked everywhere: on chairs, shelves, some with spines facing the viewer and others not. The serpentine halls weave in and out of nooks where books surround all four sides. Every room is filled with books. The remodeled house hosts close to a million books. These books are the excesses of the Becker family’s collection, books that were spilling out of their houses, finally made to use in a house-turned-store in 1993.
Online, the bookstore’s motto is “find what you don’t know you’re looking for” with a byline that encourages customers to “pocket the phone and discover what it really means to browse.” That’s precisely what happened over spring break, where a friend and I spent an extended amount of time losing our sense of day in those walls. What I loved about this bookstore that is different than any other bookstore I’ve been in was the lack of commercialism in the building. The ambiance was the books themselves. There wasn’t any music playing overhead or a gaudy children’s section or an entire display devoted to digital readers. It was completely quiet. I lost track of time because I was hidden in a corner, surrounded by books, the only light coming from the ceiling above. No baristas were waiting on standby with blaring blenders unless you counted a Keurig for customer use. I loved it. I never felt obligated to buy a book.
People came in to look and marvel at the store’s uniqueness just as much as the antiquated books themselves. While I was trying to process densely written essays picked from a shelf, a suburban family of three walked into my domain. The silence was suspended by the chatter of the family and I tried to imagine what they looked like without lifting my eyes from the page. Blonde, I thought. I looked up. Nope, they were a family of brunettes: mother, son and daughter. They came closer to my reading area, looking around in awe. The mother’s phone rang and she announced to her kids that they had to leave but could stop by again, because the store was two minutes away from their house.
Right as I was relieved that these intruders were leaving the very private public space, the older boy remarked, “A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence that people are still thinking.” He said this with great respect to his surroundings. His mom laughed in agreement. “I don’t get it,” said his younger sister, who looked to be about seven. “Yes, you do,” their mother said. As they turned the corner to exit, I heard the mother use the words “screen” and “laptops” and “lack of imagination,” her voice trailing through the doorway.
The situation was a gentle nudge that allowed me to ponder my place in life. There I was, sitting in a chair, wrongly assessing people I didn’t know because it was easy to do. It feels nice to be wrong once in awhile. Not only about strangers, but what they are and are not capable of thinking. In my head, the family was tampering with my quiet time (or my inability to comprehend a sentence) when in fact, a young boy knew exactly what I was doing. The future isn’t as bleak as adults like to forecast, especially if there are more thoughtful kids like him out there. I am so grateful that wisdom isn’t beheld to one generation or confined to one individual. Instead, it weaves its way through humanity, springing forth when least expected.