Have you ever entered a room, a business, a home, a place that instantly enveloped you in warmth and encouraged you to sit awhile, cozy up and be yourself? For me, that place is a small bookstore, located just around the way from Minneapolis’ iconic and beautiful Lake of the Isles. Indulge me while I tell you about this place, won’t you?
I first entered Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore owned by the remarkably talented author, Louise Erdrich, in 2008. I was studying poverty, writing and social change in the Twin Cities, and we visited Birchbark as part of a scavenger hunt of sorts, stopping at independent bookstores across Minneapolis and St. Paul.
On that day in 2008, my classmates and I were greeted by Susan, a staff member with a firestorm of energy and a wealth of knowledge to share with us. She quickly flitted throughout the store, recommending this book and that book, explaining the store’s genre sections in her cheery tone. The store itself is a choose-your-own-adventure of discovery; the shop contains a confessional booth, a hideaway for children to read under a lofted staircase, and cozy chairs around every corner. In short, it’s a place in which I, like many others, could spend hours of time.
While I was walking through the various shelves of books, struggling to carry the growing number of books that seemed to heave themselves from the shelves into my arms, I took notice of tiny notes scrawled with cursive handwriting taped to the covers of some of the books. Susan saw me looking at them, and mentioned, “Louise takes the time to write little notes for all of the books she enjoys. She wants her customers to know what she likes and why she likes it, and to know why these books are on her shelves.” This personal touch warmed my heart and also helped me to sort through the multitude of books in my hands.
Even still, despite the weeding out, I walked up to the counter with eight books in hand that day. Susan looked at me and, smiling, said, “Bless your heart.”
Each time I return to Minneapolis, I stop by Birchbark, and each time, I leave for South Dakota, for home, with another full bag of books. It’s simply my most favorite bookstore, and more than that, it’s a place where, eleven years ago, I began to discover myself, my independence, my value, and my voice. My semester in the Twin Cities in 2008 marked the first extended period of time that I spent away from home; I attended college a mere 20 minutes away from my childhood home, and I didn’t study abroad, even for a short time. Thus, my time in the Twin Cities, and the education and internship I completed while there, was life-giving for me in many ways, which is likely why Birchbark Books is so dear to me.