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Bookstores offer varied approaches to literature in Lebanon

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

When one walks into The Book Garden, a modest shop situated on the busy highway in Lebanon, two impressions immediately strike the senses.
The first is the numerous amount of books stacked onto shelves and covering every corner, eliciting a cozy feel.
Second is the vibrant Latin and Mediterranean music that seems to inspire a sense of adventure.
“You don’t want music that’s so gloomy that it puts you to sleep while you’re in here,” said Janet Nelson, one of the shop owners.
Janet and her son, Jay Nelson, opened the shop at 2437 S. Santiam Hwy. last year just before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
They’ve never owned a bookstore before, but both are surrounded by books at home and it made sense to make a business of it, Janet said.
“We decided we really enjoy them, it’s something we like being around,” she said.
North of them, on Main Street, sits Lebanon’s other bookstore, Beauty’s Bountiful Books, at 678 S. Main St.
Like the Nelsons, owner Elizabeth Martin has never owned a bookstore, but she left her job at Northwest Apparel last September to take over the business.
“I just have a passion for books, and it became available,” she said.
The layout in Martin’s store is spacious and orderly, with tile floors that invite browsers to walk the length of the shop.

FERN strikes a pose in the window.

Fern, Martin’s cat, naps on her bed and watches passersby from behind the window pane when the store is open.
“Every bookstore needs a cat,” Martin said.
Despite big bookstore chains closing across the nation, statistics show readers still prefer the printed page over digital. Author David Sax’s prediction that books would come back, in his 2016 book “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter,” seems to be getting legs in Lebanon and beyond.
A report from the Association of American Publishers indicates print formats represented almost 75 percent of the publishing industry’s revenue in 2019, while eBooks declined nearly 31 percent over the past five years.
Author and linguists professor Naomi Baron conducted a study that also revealed college students around the world prefer print over digital, with some students noting they like the smell of books.
The Nelsons wouldn’t be surprised by that data, because their customers have admitted to wanting to smell the books while browsing.

BOOK GARDEN owners Jay and Janet Nelson stand surrounded by one of their favorite things: books. Janet also does some rock painting, as evidenced by some of her work in front of her.

“It’s just a shame, all that knowledge is just going online and it’s ephemeral,” Jay said. “Here, you can pick up a book that’s 130 years old and it looks like it could’ve been printed 10 years ago.
” It’s the passing on of something tangible. You can hold the knowledge that you can’t get in an online experience.”
Although he admits digital versions are handy for travel and short-on-space situations, he sees that some of his customers are turning to print because they believe digital is not the best way to preserve knowledge, he said.
“In these uncertain times, they are requesting survival books, field guides, even dictionaries.”
Despite COVID being a thorn in small business, both bookstores in Lebanon are “hanging on.”
“People still wanted books,” Janet said. “They’d come in thanking us, saying, ‘We consider this necessary to our mental health.’”
And Jay points out that the shared family outing and “the thrill of the hunt” at a brick and mortar – rather than online – is part of the experience.
“It’s the serendipity of walking past and seeing something interesting and unexpected that was exactly what you didn’t know you wanted,” he said. “That’s tough to replicate online. It’s the smell of books. The ambiance of the shop. The chance to flip through and determine if a book is worth it, rather than judging a book by its cover.”
The Nelsons and Martin admit they like to read just about anything. However, they each tend toward certain genres.

BEAUTY’S BOUNTIFUL BOOKS owner Elizabeth Martin holds the store cat, Fern, next to her “new arrivals” table.

“It gives me anxiety not knowing what happened,” she said. “I think, like, maybe it will get better. Maybe this is just the down time in the book. Maybe there’s more. I think that’s why I finish reading the really bad ones.”
Regardless of how bad or good a book might be, reading gives people an opportunity to learn and to let go of reality for a period of time, she said. It’s a way to relieve stress.
Personally, Janet said she tends toward gardening, nature, and backyard birding, while Jay enjoys epic fantasy, historical fiction, earthwise living, vintage travelogues and food history.
Martin likes action, western, fantasy and history. And like some people, she will finish a book even if it’s a bad one.
While Martin is considering phasing out used books in order to bring in new ones, she said she will not turn a person away if they want to donate their used books. She’d prefer to find a place for them rather than they get tossed in the trash, she said.
The Nelsons are on the same page. They place their “bargain bin” books outside every day.
“Those are the ones that’ve seen better days,” Janet said. “There are still good books out there. I mean, there are a lot of good books, but you hate to just dispose of them.”