Everybody needs a happy place. Some place where they feel safe and comfortable and recharge from the stresses of the world. When I learned that my publisher was closing its doors and wouldn’t be publishing Urban Dragon, one of the first things I did was retreat back to mine.
And like a lot of writers, I’m sure, my happy place is a bookstore.
Way back in 2012, a couple of weeks after I finished my BA, I happened to be passing a building that was undergoing renovation for a new bookstore that would be opening its doors soon. I needed something to do with myself, so I wound up volunteering there– first to help with the renovations, and then to sort donations and shelve titles and run registers and all the other little side jobs that a bookstore needs to run. I wound up having to take a hiatus from volunteering when I entered grad school, but as soon as I had the chance, I dove right back in again. I needed my happy place.
Most of the books that fill the shelves at Indy Reads Books are donated, which means that the air is rich with that old book smell. The high ceilings and enormous windows make the store feel open and full of natural light. The building is an old one, and before the first level was a bookstore, it was a bicycle repair shop and a karate school, among others. Now it’s a staple of downtown Indianapolis, and one of the only remaining bookstores in the area. But the building isn’t the only thing revitalized.
In the United States, 1 in 7 adults can’t read. That number rises to 1 in 5 in Indiana. Illiteracy predominantly affects poor and marginalized populations (in prisons, the illiteracy rate is estimated to be roughly 3 in 5), and it contributes to a vicious cycle of poverty. Illiteracy acts as a major obstacle in getting a job, especially one that pays a living wage, and parents who are illiterate often raise children who can’t read. There’s also shame and stigma surrounding the issue, where the illiterate are unfairly labeled as stupid or lazy, despite the fact that the issue has more to do with schools that are overcrowded, underfunded, and unprepared to help the estimated 20% of students who have learning disabilities.
Indy Reads is one of many programs working to fight the tide of illiteracy in the United States and around the world. They train volunteer coaches and connect them with adult students, and bring literacy education programs into prisons. All these services are provided for free, so the funds come from charitable donations and the profits raised by the bookstore.
(If you’re interested in other places that have a peculiar lasting effect on psyches, check out my post on the Potato Room)