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  • Lev Lyonne

Understanding Vellichor: The Strange Wistfulness of Bookstores and How to Keep Them Alive.

There are not many places more exquisite than an independent bookstore. The large chain shops, like Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, or whatever your country's equivalent is, are all lovely places to shop as well. However, there is nothing more special than walking into a small bookstore that you discover while walking down the street. Whether new, used, or old, I'm sure all writers can agree that there is a wonderful wistfulness to these places. There's even a word for it: vellichor.

Vellichor is defined as "the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured."

This definition is taken from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows on tumblr. I think it perfectly captures the magical feeling that overcomes you when you walk into a place of books. It's visible in libraries and big bookstores, but there is something intimate about these small shops. It is a more familiar acquaintance with the books. You feel as though there are more possibilities. That if you just turn one more corner, you'll stumble across the perfect book.

Keeping this feeling of vellichor alive and well is incredibly important, especially in light of the world's current situation. Businesses all over the globe are hurting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has been incredibly difficult on bookstores. In the age of digital reading, and online TV streaming, books have been falling more and more to the wayside. Not in the dramatic fashion that most people talk about, but bookstores definitely have been closing. Even large chains have had to shut down.

Any of my fellow Americans remember the glorious Borders? Not independent but...what a place.

To get back to the main point, independent bookstores are drowning now and it is up to us, the readers and the writers, to help get them out of these tough times. Take and a moment to think about your favorite moments of vellichor.

Running your fingers across the spines of crimson books, slightly leathery but also soft. The smell of ink and dust (but hopefully not too much dust). The creaky staircase in the back, leading you down to where the non-fiction is stored. The typewriter the owners leave out for people to write messages on. The cat curled up in the windowsill. And in between all of this objects and smells and sights, you are overcome by vellichor.

It stays with you when you leave the shop. When you put that book up on your shelf. When you curl up in bed, and a thunderstorm rages outside, and you have your little slice of vellichor in your hands. Nothing can replace that feeling, so don't let it slip away.

The past week, I have started a small initiative on Instagram called #indiebookstoreweek. I would shout out different indie bookstores all across America, trying to draw attention to their business. Although most stores are closed for browsing thanks to COVID-19, they are almost all having great online deals and are working around the clock to get orders out. They are still here for us, so we need to be here for them.

Some easy ways to support independent bookstores now are:

-Place an order online! A lot of them have free or cheap shipping now.

-If you can't afford to order books right now, then spread the word!

- Make a post about what you love about the shop and tag them.

-Tell your friends! Not in person, obviously, but social media is such a great tool. Word of mouth is what is going to help so many businesses. Share their posts on social media!

-When this craziness clears up, make note that you want to go in and visit a local bookstore. Google ones near you (I'm positive there is at least one somewhere near) and plan a little day trip for yourself! Give yourself something to look forward to when you can leave the house.

All in all, please, remember that independent bookstores are incredibly important. They are wells of inspiration, they are people's life work, they are beautiful little escapes in a crazy world. So, please, do your part. Hold onto to vellichor and hold onto these wonderful stores.




This is only a tiny, tiny fraction of all the bookstores in the USA. These were the ones submitted to me by readers of the blog! If you have a bookstore you'd like to shout-out, let me know and I will promote them!

Paper Trail: Royal Oak, MI

Literati: Ann Arbor, MI

Harvey’s Tales: St. Charles, Illinois

Town House Books: Geneva, Illinois

Prairie Path Books: Wheaton, Illinois

Full Circle Book Coop: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Parnassus Books: Nashville, Tennesse

New Dominion Books: Charlottesville, Virginia

The Twig Bookshop: San Antonio, Texas

Nine Lives Books: San Antonio, Texas

Dead Tree Books: San Antonio, Texas

Book People: Austin, Texas

Malvern Books: Austin, Texas

South Congress Books: Austin, Texas

Kinokuniya: Austin, Texas

Elliott Bay Books: Seattle, Washington

Third Place Books: Seattle, Washington

Mother Foucaults: Portland, Oregon

Annie Bloom’s Books: Portland, Oregon

The Last Book: Los Angeles, California

Mysterious Galaxy: San Diego, California