Wednesday, July 12, 2006
A cozy huddle of friends and customers gathers in the early evening at D.G. Wills Book Shop. For an hour or two, you can imagine yourself visiting a Dickensian bookseller in old London.
It's a hideout for those of us who savor not only the words but the freshest scent of new books and the musty odors of old ones. A funky wooden Indian looks down on guests. On nearby shelves are Wills's astonishing collection of books in Latin and Greek. In the book world, he's as famed as the Padres. His book launching parties for authors have lured Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, with Maureen Dowd coming soon.
On this evening, they have come to hear a determined San Diego-born author.
She is Joan McIver Gibson, who was once on the Purple Team at The Bishop's School, just up the street. She went on to UCSD and a doctorate in philosophy under the radical philosopher Herbert Marcuse and, now, to promote her first book A Field Guide to Good Decisions .
At Wills shop, she is just one more in a succession of first-time authors. They are always bold and often a little scared, wondering if anyone is going to buy a book.
Such moments are common in bookshops across San Diego County. Wills is the one of the places that customers hang out where no one will ask you to buy even if you stand around and read a whole book through.
But the lone, independent booksellers like Wills are involved in a shoot-out with chain booksellers. If a discount warehouse decides to stock a new book, it costs less there. But there is no one at Costco to tell you he has read the book and suggests why you might like it or not waste your time and money.
Such booksellers survive and often thrive, as neighborhood sanctuaries, with customers that Wills calls his gang of pals, like Doc Ricketts gang in Steinbeck's Cannery Row. They watch ball games on TV and drink beer.
Such shops appeal to many of us like the neighborhood church or bar or grocery places where you sip coffee and browse through books you may never buy, but meet other book readers and hear visiting authors like Joan Gibson, telling us how we can stop making dumb decisions.
Who are these small booksellers? People like Wills, who works seven days a week in his own shop soothed by strains of Faure and Tchaikovsky on his sound system.
It was forty years ago when Wills left the Air Force and did not go home to Los Angeles. He chose to launch his bookshop in San Diego.
In between charming his customers, he may be reading the newest books or sawing one-by-twelve boards to make more shelves for his 100,000 volumes. These people guard a branch of learning that we find too seldom in classroom or newsroom. I hope they will always be around.