How bookstores can bring us together

Magers & Quinn bookstore, Minneapolis
Magers & Quinn bookstore in Minneapolis. "Bookstores are the perfect place for the conversation to begin about how we can understand different people's perspectives," said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association.
Courtesy of Magers & Quinn

Bookstores are a place where different thoughts, different ideologies and different perspectives all sit lined up on a shelf next to one another.

This week, Oren Teicher, the CEO of the American Booksellers Association, issued a statement reminding booksellers and readers of the power of a bookstore.

As this bitterly contested election season comes to a close — regardless of which candidate you supported &mdash it's clear that we live in a terribly divided country.

The role bookstores play in healing division has never been more important.

As citizens, attempting to comprehend what has occurred, all of us in the bookselling community have a special obligation — and opportunity — to foster communication and help reconcile our communities.

President-elect Trump, Secretary Clinton and President Obama have all indicated that the time to unite our country is now, and there is no better place than within the walls of a bookstore for that process to begin.

"Bookstores are the perfect place for the conversation to begin about how we can understand different people's perspectives and how we can reconcile different points of view," Teicher continued.

Woman in bookstore
Barbara Carpenter flips through a copy of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's memoir, on display at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. in 2008.
Getty Images | File 2008

"Bookstores have played that role historically in American society, certainly on 9/11, and during the recession, and more recently in the aftermath of the horrific events in Orlando and elsewhere. Booksellers have a role to play in bringing people together."

Bruce DeLaney, one of the owners of Rediscovered Books in Boise, Ida., agreed. DeLaney's shop sits down the street from Idaho's state capitol, and his customers include both conservative and liberal lawmakers. On one night the store might host a conversation on hunting and fishing; the next a human rights book club.

"Bookstores are one of the few places in our society where people of political views, people of different gender and racial identities can get together in a safe space and discuss ideas," DeLaney said.

Right now, he's getting lots of questions from customers about what to read next. What book can offer insight? Or a new direction?

"I would recommend for anyone who is not totally turned off by politics at this moment, reading [Jon Meacham's] new biography of George Herbert Walker Bush," DeLaney said.

"Regardless of how you feel about politicians, you have to admire a man who was born to great wealth, yet served his country in the war, who had a feeling that modesty and temperament were important, and who was gracious in losing and magnanimous in winning.

"I really think looking at that and saying: Politics have been divisive before and politics will be divisive again. People you agree with politically will win elections and lose elections, but America is better than that, and I think that's the message everybody needs to hear."

What book would you recommend for people to read in this moment?

Share your suggestions in the comments below.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.