An Elegy for the Bookstore (As We Know It)

Ethan Edward Coston / The Triton

As another Triton Day comes and goes, I am reminded of my first visit to this campus. As it was for many of us, it was a time in my life when I was spending many of my spring weekends on college campuses, trying to imagine what I would look like transposed onto that scenery, wearing those colors, and, for a future English major with an inordinate love of coffee, what it would look like to sit in those cafés with a good book letting the afternoons pass beneath my notice.

I distinctly remember my own Triton Day. I dragged my dad, who’d already walked nearly six miles through every bit of this university with me, back to the center of campus to find some token of our visit. We were exhausted and thirsty and had an eight-hour drive back to the Bay Area ahead of us, but as soon as I stepped through the doors of the bookstore, I was ready to put it all off for a while. In all those college tours, I had never seen anything like it. A college bookstore that actually had books? Shelves and shelves of novels, children’s books, book merchandise, graphic novels, poetry—you name it, there was some shelf that had at least a handful of whatever genre you were looking for.

And, as if the bookstore had come from my own dreams, there was also an adorable café at the end, full of people chatting and sipping their drinks, working on homework, and just generally enjoying a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere.

Despite my pleas, my dad dragged me back upstairs, urged me to pick a pennant, and in 15 minutes, we were back in the car pulling onto Highway 5 and beginning the trek back north.

Now, as the deal is being finalized to bring a Target into the bookstore, I can’t help but reflect on that time and how much it meant to me as I was deciding where to spend the next four years of my life. I had narrowed my decision down to here and a small Pacific-Northwest liberal arts college, and while I was worried about being a Literature student on a campus known for its STEM research, I got the sense in that stroll through the bookstore that there were people who shared my interests on this campus. And over the course of my few years here, I’ve spent a great deal of time perusing that bookstore between classes, meeting friends, writers, and professors in Perks, and enjoying the sense of calm that being surrounded by books and coffee brings me.

Don’t get me wrong, we still have a lot of wonderful cafés on campus, and the bookstore may still carry a handful of books after Target annexes the top floor, but it will definitely never again have a whole floor dedicated to books of all varieties the way it did that April day when I decided I could see myself spending four years in this place. Sure, there are still bookstores off campus and sure there are other places to get coffee, but there is really no other place as convenient as the bookstore for getting a decent cup of coffee and sitting among stacks of books, reading or studying or browsing the spines.

While I will certainly miss the bookstore selfishly for the sense of peace it brings me, I also can’t help but feel troubled by the deeper problem it seems to stem from. Liberal arts departments on this campus are already often in a precarious position. As a Literature major, I’ve always been struck by how the Literature building seems so small and plain behind those elegant glass engineering buildings in Warren Mall. On a walk back to my Warren College apartment a few weekends back, I passed through HackXX and saw the effort and expense that went into it, and wondered how many students on this campus knew about the New Writing Series that brings contemporary writers to Geisel Library several times a quarter to read their work.

The disparity between STEM and the humanities on this campus is always felt by those of us in the latter group, and I can’t help but wonder as I watch the bookstore slowly shutter and become another campus store full of only textbooks and sweatshirts if it’s just another concession asked of liberal arts students on this STEM-heavy research campus, who really only want a little space and a little recognition of our interests.

Paige Prudhon is the Opinion Editor of The Triton.