A little essay in which I ruminate on our forty years in the bookselling business. I name drop some authors and books, mostly so it gives you a picture of some of our influences and heros, contacts and favorite people. I hope you find it a little bit interesting as we invite you to celebrate God’s faithfulness to us these four long decades. And as a way of saying thanks to all who have sent us orders and kept us afloat.
I suppose twenty years ago today I cited the famous Sergeant Pepper lyric about it being twenty years ago today. Maybe I even noted how that famous prelude segued into “With a Little Help From My Friends.” I suppose I’d say God Himself is our own Sergeant Pepper but we have truly gotten by these forty years in the volatile world of indie book retailing, with the help of our friends. Staff, sales reps, supportive authors, family members, friendly church leaders, and, of course, customers.
In the early years we coined a little slogan that we wanted folks to be “more than a customer.” Partners, allies, maybe something akin to what Wendell Berry calls a membership; friends. And so it has often been that in these forty years — we opened forty years ago today — our customers have become friends. More than a few (you know who you are) are dear, dear ones. Some are local, some are from our era selling books at conferences and events where we’d unite for a few days each year, and others are from what we used to call our “mail order” business. Folks nowadays call that our online community; some of you we have met face to face, some we have not. Many of you reading this are very special to us. I suspect most of us feel a bit like a tribe together, with overlapping interests surrounding the reading of good books. We are, in some ways, a community of sorts, a fellowship of friends.
Maybe I’ll admit to thinking that the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” is more passionate and gritty than the iconic Beatles version. I will say that our tribe who has shopped here, sent orders here, worked with us in various ways (including churches, mission and ministry organizations, social change think-tanks, a few colleges, libraries, and, in the old days, our local hospital) have been an unwieldy bunch, a little wild like the infamous Cocker. What a motley crew most of us are. How eager we are to read widely, to learn, to celebrate the printed page, faithful but open-minded, fierce as some say these days. How can we ever say thank you?
A few have wondered about our bookstore life and times and some have even encouraged me to write a book about it. Although I’ve got lots of good stories of interesting customers, lots of rewarding scenarios, a few harrowing moments (like the threats from the KKK under our door when we had an MLK display in our window), funny episodes (like the time I hung up on the White House operator thinking the order from the President of the United States was a joke), and mostly happy friendships with fascinating authors we’ve met, I doubt that there’s enough for a book. But I can ramble a bit here for those who might find it interesting.
I needn’t belabor our origin story here; many have heard it (ad nauseam, perhaps.) The shortest version is that we learned to value the usefulness of thoughtful Christian literature when we worked for the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) out near Pittsburgh in the late 1970s. Helping to organize the Jubilee conference there which was designed to hold out the transforming vision of a radical Christian worldview that equipped students to think Christianly about life, culture, studies, vocation, and work was a motivating factor: when we left CCO and returned to central PA (half way between Beth’s parents and my parents, all who helped us immeasurably in the first decade of the store) we wanted to take what we called the Jubilee vision to ordinary folk.
Could books help south central Pennsylvania customers relate liturgy and labor, worship and work, prayer and politics? Could our books help them be, in the words of a book written decades later by N.T. Wright, “surprised by hope”? The gap between Sunday and Monday seemed indicative of a dualism between the so-called sacred and secular and we wanted to lay that dichotomy to rest. God cares about all areas of life and there is much to learn about; no topic is off limits for the curious Christian mind. We sold overtly Christian books and other stuff, too. And we arranged our shelves and stocked what few in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) carried — books about art and science, work and politics, technology and literature, education and nursing, law and psychology. In this sense we were very much like any other indie bookstores but it confused many of our earliest customers. “Where is the new Christian bookstore?” more than one person asked when they walked in the door and saw our environmental science section or books on pop culture and film studies. They couldn’t even imagine that these categories contained, mostly, overtly Christian theology and Biblically-informed perspectives on these topics. No Christian bookstore that we knew of had sections of books like any other real bookstore, architecture, gardening, sexuality, media studies. Many didn’t know what to make of us.
There were pivotal moments in the development of my own love for books which developed in my college years in the early to mid-1970s. I had read the once-banned, anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun (by Dalton Trumbo) at the end of high school and knew how powerful novels could be. My friend Randy from the Easter Seal Camp Harmony Hall (where Beth and I worked in the summers) gave me a poetic prayer book by activist Malcolm Boyd and the beautiful novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles that were influential. (I will not try to narrate Beth’s reading journey but as the daughter of a librarian and the sister of a reading specialist, she was ahead of me, talking about Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, say, before I had ever heard of it.)
I somehow got a copy of Os Guinness’s The Dust of Death which explored both the cultural left and right and offered a full-orbed vision of God’s Kingdom as a ‘third way’, a way of thinking that has never quite left me, even though the Christian right and the Christian left has tried to seduce me into their single-minded approaches. (It has been re-issued in IVP’s Signature Classic series and you should order it!) I was introduced to Reformed theology by the likes of R.C. Sproul but was drawn more to the Dutch reformational tradition in the line of Abraham Kuyper who affirmed common grace and invited us to think in distinctive manners about the Lordship of Christ in every area of life. (My favorite book on some of these themes, by the way, which has a few pages about our bookstore, is Richard Mouw’s splendid All That God Cares About: Common Grace and Divine Delight which is a fabulously interesting book to be read alongside Mouw’s lovely introduction to Kuyper called Abraham Kuyper: A Short and Personal Introduction.) Soon enough, I came to appreciate the work of Francis Schaeffer.
(Years later when we were planning out our store and attending our very first large national Christian Bookstore Association professional gathering, a huge, glitzy event in Dallas that we were uneasy about, a kindly, older woman opened the door for us and offered to hold our crying baby, then maybe six months old. Beth and I instantly recognized Edith Schaeffer and we somehow felt like it was a sign of God’s favor on us, a small sign that it was going to be okay.)
In my CCO years I tried to help students become better readers, learning about big ideas and helping them realize faith was more than personal salvation or nominal church life. Concern about the broader world and how the Bible addresses things like justice and economics and poverty was a way into this. Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger remains one of the most formative books I’ve ever read and certainly one of the most important in our lifetime. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
I read a book in those years by Howard Snyder called Community of the King which I had reviewed in Sojourners magazine and to this day I often say it is one of the best books on the local church that one should read. Happily, it is still in print, and, I think, set the stage for the more recent emphasis on what is now called the missional church movement. I like that it relates the local church (as a community) to the broader context of the coming Kingdom of God, the renewal of all creation. That is certainly one of the burning questions, a high view of church that equips us, though, to find God and serve others in all areas of life, outside the conventional walls of the typical church. Snyder gets it right.
When we opened our store that Black Friday we gave away copies of the IVP book by John Stott called Your Mind Matters. It was a lovely little manifesto that we thought might help customers appreciate what we were hoping to do with our little shop on Main Street. We had a drawing for a slipcased autographed copy of a memoir by a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher, former President Jimmy Carter. What fun!
As 1983 began we were a regular store with regular hours and for years we were considered the new bookstore in the area. (It was years before we hired staff and it goes without saying that we couldn’t have survived with a handful of great employees who often became like family.) There were more traditional CBA stores near us, a Catholic shop or two, a regional chain of general stores and, in Harrisburg, a Cokesbury chain store, that catered more to mainline denominational customers than did the more sectarian mom and pop religious bookstores. There were bookstores everywhere, including several in each mall (remember malls?) We entered the business at a good time. We just didn’t have much business experience and our inventory was unusual to say the least. It was complicated with our idealistic vision and not much surplus cash.
Forty years later, I muse that some things never change. Ha. But man, in those early days we had hours of good conversations with people. CCM music was a new thing and we carried tons of albums in that hip gospel genre (not to mention then little known band U2 and Bob Dylan and Van Morrison and Johnny Cash and of course Bruce Cockburn.) Kids would flock here as we put on hot chocolate after the Friday night high school football games. Pastors befriended me and I was honored to hear some of their deepest concerns.
Not long ago a fellow showed up at our door — he has become Orthodox, after a period nearly forty years ago revelling in contemporary evangelicalism. He said we sold him CCM music, including hard Christian metal, so many decades ago and it made a difference. He said I have him lots of encouragement and good advice. I don’t know about that, but it is fascinating how many folks have grown up coming into Hearts & Minds and then bought their children and grandchildren.
Interestingly, we didn’t even call ourselves a “Christian” bookstore (only Christians go in those shops, and, only certain kinds of Christians at that) and we were deeply ecumenical, wanting to serve all branches of church folk, and, frankly, while it energized a few who had the eyes to see, it confused many. For one dark season there was a boycott against us because we had a section of contemplative spirituality — Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, medieval Catholic mystics, and Richard Foster, for instance — and the rumor was that we were teaching transcendental meditation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but there were petitions and animosity. To this day I commend Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home as true classics of spirituality. More recently there are plenty of others and that section bulges, but on the top of the list are the many titles by Ruth Haley Barton. The early Foster work is seminal and blessed.
I often explain the difference between Eastern sorts of meditation where the primary goal is to empty one’s mind to nothingness with more faithful Christian approaches where the goal is to fill one’s interior self with Biblical, Christ-like thoughts, not to join the universal Oneness but to be conformed to the likeness and way of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, for a life embodied in the real world that God so loves.) The fear of what was then called the new age movement was throughout our community (perhaps like the MAGA-Stop the Steal nonsense is now, a loud and notable group) and I recall debating with customers why it was appropriate for us to sell bookmarkers with rainbows on them who insisted it was a sign of the encroaching One World Government. “It is a sign of God’s covenant with the Earth, given in Genesis,” I’d insist, and we were not getting rid of them.
We were sent a letter to cease and desist my negative reviews of a book (The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow) by a crack-pot conspiracy-teaching attorney whose book was condemning people like Ron Sider and Richard Foster who she insisted were pseudo-Christians plotting a demonic takeover, or something like that. I had it out with her at a trade show and rebuked the publisher who pushed such reprehensible nonsense. She said she was going to sue us but it all petered out.
Unrelatedly, I argued once with Jerry Falwell in those years about his daring to call people I respected “communists”, people like Alan Boesak in South Africa. He oddly chuckled about it, but we had a long conversation about Christians needing to disentangle themselves from ideologies of the far right (and the far left) and be more distinctive, Biblical, ethical, honest, at least. He was a mess, standing up for liar Ollie North who was killing children in El Salvador and Nicaragua (remember the Contras and the murder of Oscar Romero?) Jerry also was advocating greater support for the evil apartheid government in South Africa. What a scandal!
In those same years we were gaining some friends in local congregations and I preached or taught Sunday school in Lutheran and United Methodist and UCC congregations, not to mention a number of nondenominational churches in the area. We attended First Presbyterian of York and through pro-life work came to know some Roman Catholic friends as well. There was a Catholic school right across the street from us in those years and I’d sometimes speak there; my stint with the Thomas Merton Center back in Pittsburgh gave me some small ability to connect with folks who knew them. Interestingly, the first in-store event we ever did was with Jim Wallis of Sojourners; we had maybe 25 people in the small front room of the store (before we expanded and doubled our size) and as I recall it included mainline Protestant, Romans Catholic, evangelical, and non-churched folks. What a blast.
For a very nice story about us, see this older interview with me by the former book review editor at The Christian Century, Richard Kauffman. It’s almost embarrassing to share such a terrific article, but figured we should share it.
We brought in some speakers in that first decade or so; Becky Pippert’s Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World remains a classic on evangelism (I hope you have read it) and she did a delightful handful of presentations here. Os Guinness generously came several times; he spoke on his book The American Hour at York College and the president of the college said it was the best lecture he had ever heard! At a conference we put together on various careers and callings, Os gave a message that ended up becoming a key chapter in The Call: Finding and Fulfilling God’s Purpose for Your Life which remains one of my all time favorite books. Please consider ordering it as a 40th anniversary gift to us, okay? It will make my day.
We brought in Brian Walsh, Ron Sider, a few children’s authors, a poet, a novelist. In time my local pal Dick Cleary wrote a novel that was more or less designed to ask big questions as an apologetic type book would, and then a few years later, another, even better. We so enjoyed having a neighbor presenting on his fictional books with a message, In the Absence of God and Bridging the Abyss.
Over the years we’ve had many other speakers, from Lauren Winner to John Fea to Michael Ware to Karen Swallow Prior to Bobby Gross to Christopher Smith to Ruth Haley Barton to Jeremy Courtney to David Kinnamen. (And what a joy to have local churches partner with us to host some of these outstanding events. You know who you are and we are grateful.) I don’t recall every having an author in the store who we felt badly about afterwards. What a joy this has been and we thank our local folks for supporting those kinds of events.
Our largest event was when we first hosted Beverly Lewis, the delightfully impressive author of Amish fiction. (Her new one, by the way, The Orchard, is the story of a romance involving an Amish guy who surprisingly joins the military.) Second in size and most discussed was our backyard event with N.T. Wright. You can still find on-line video of him playing a Dylan song behind our store. We will be forever grateful to Mike Gorman for helping us set that up.
Our daily work is often frustrating and the demands are much more intense than I’d ever imagined as we got into this so many decades ago. The stress has gotten worse. Don’t get me started about the confusions among publishers, shippers, damaged books, wrong bills, complacent customer service reps. Ugh.
But, yet, what a rare privilege to have hob-nobbed with, for instance, Brennan Manning (I’ve got a funny story, there, too) and to have been invited on stage with the late, great Rich Mullins to talk about our local Chinese refugee project. We’ve organized a couple of concerts, too. I’ve met Mark Heard, smuggled poetry volumes back stage to Bruce Cockburn, sold books to a personal hero, Bill Mallonee. We hosted for an in-store reading Emmy Lou Harris’s bandmate Phil Madeira (reading from his memoir God on the Rocks) and he brought along his guitar. What a joy to have Michael Card, singing, yes, but talking about his wonderful “Biblical Imagination” series of commentaries on the four gospels. He’s a very, very sharp guy.
Two plans for in-store events fell through due to illness and delays; what an honor it would have been to do the poetry reading we had hoped for with Eugene Peterson (while he was still at Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland) and to have hosted Madeleine L’Engle, who was at a small Episcopal Church in New York where good friends knew her well. What an evening either of those events would have been, eh?
I don’t exactly recall when it started — about a decade in, I guess — but two or three organizations asking us to come to their events catapulted us into more off-site events which, for nearly 30 years, was a major part of our work. The CCO invited me back to do some staff training, to write book reviews for the in-house staff newsletter, to bring resources to their every-other-monthly staff gatherings and eventually — when the previous bookseller and good friend wanted out — to start setting up books at the big, annual Jubilee conference. To this day the CCO is our largest client and as an associate staff with them, I get to hawk books to their staff and sometimes their students. With their “Jubilee vision” of inviting students into the all-of-life-redeemed story of God we get to sell books on law and medicine and technology and education and counseling and business in a way we don’t here in the shop.
We rarely sell books about work and marketplace ministry here in the store but college students, if mentored correctly, can develop an appetite for relating faith and life, Christian thinking and social action, Biblical worldview and transformational service in culture. Books like the edgy cool and very readable Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human by John Mark Comer and the more sophisticated but must-read Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch provide the essential foundation — and we sell them most places we go (if rarely here in Dallastown.) So we appreciate the heroic efforts of many CCO staff to invite young adults into what Steve Garber (who used to work for them) calls a seamless life.
I adore Garber’s small collection of pieces about this called A Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love & Learning, Worship and Work which in short eloquent essays explores the themes developed more substantively in Visions of Vocation: Common Grace of the Common Good. (And while I’m mentioning Garber, I was honored to be interviewed and my story told in a page or two in his first book, the late 1990s Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior) which explores how people find lasting meaning in a pluralistic, secularizing world. He remains one of our favorite authors and a regular encouragement to us. If you wonder what guided us these past 40 years you could do much worse than read through Garber’s three books.
Besides the CCO getting us slowly learning the art of setting up book displays off-site, we were invited by the Pennsylvania State Council of Churches to their then-huge events, meeting speakers as prestigious as Jurgen Moltmann and Walter Brueggemann. Our state-wide PC(USA) Synod had us doing week-long events called Synod School (where we first became friends with Leonard Sweet) and we were regulars for a number of years at the Black Presbyterian Caucus events — some years being the only white guy in the place. Beth and I sort of became honorary UCC folks with the Penn Southeast Conference and the Penn Central Conference having us speak and sell books at their clergy retreats. (We hung out with nationally-known speakers such as Barbara Brown Taylor, Joyce Rupp, Tom Sine, Len Sweet, Walt Brueggemann, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Jeremiah Wright, Marva Dawn, Molly Baskette, Anthony Robinson and more at their events.) At other similar retreats we met Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rachel Held Evans, Lisa Sharon Harper, Jamie Smith, and again, many others.
Our off-site business picked up as we served various denominations. From UCC annual conferences to Lutheran Synod events to Episcopalian clergy retreats to our beloved, regional APCE (Association of Presbyterian Church Educators) events, we’ve had the delight of serving churches. We’ve worked with smaller gatherings, many speakers of note, and a few really famous ones such as Miroslav Volf and Fleming Rutledge. It’s been stressful (more than you can imagine, actually) and a true blessing.
During those years we’ve served Christian organizations. Some congregations and organizations send us mail orders, of course (thank you) but also as a part of our off site travels. We’ve done large and well-curated book displays in many states — Florida, Texas, New England, Illinois, Ohio, even California. We’ve often been to New York City with the Redeemer Center for Faith and Work (and a few one-off events with Redeemer Presbyterian like when they hosted Bryan Stevenson or N.T. Wright.) For years we’ve had the red carpet rolled out for us at CLS (the Christian Legal Society) one of the most exciting and rewarding things we’ve done each year. We have attended several IAM conferences (Mako Fujimura’s old International Arts Ministry organization.) Naturally, we’ve been to CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) events and one-off conferences on business, science, ecology, Christian education, peacemaking, prayer, world missions, youth ministry. We’ve done events on health care, on slavery and trafficking, on race and racism, on theology, on mental health and, for a while, a series of annual events inviting charismatic renewal and spiritual warfare. Oh yes.
Our passion for sharing thoughtful books largely in the evangelical tradition got us selling books in northern Virginia for the legendary C.S. Lewis Institute (where we served offering books by folks such as Alister McGrath and Lee Strobel and Os Guinness) and the Annapolis, MD, annual Jonathan Edwards Institute conference. That John Piper thought I might know where to find an obscure Edwards quote still makes me chuckle, but we did have the Complete Works there, and found the quote with Noel’s help, just before his address.
Speaking of Piper, I once was giving a book talk at a diverse gathering of campus ministry professionals down South where he was the keynote speaker, presenting at the banquet follow ing my book announcements. The power went out when I was doing the book plugs and since they didn’t want to have him start in the dark, they told me just to keep hawking books. I preached up a storm (in the dark) about the need for books to help collegiates take their faith into the classroom, about the vivid call of God to think critically about the culture and take up vocations which would become callings, in but not of the world. It was nearly pitch black, but he said he liked my off-the-cuff riffing. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d speak in a room that was dark from power outages. Or at candle-lit, late night, outdoor events at camps or festivals.
We’ve sold books with Tony Campolo (who once quipped that he should take me on the road with him since I knew his books better than he did) and a friend who was a bit of a mentor, Ron Sider. Through Bread for the World we came to meet a long-time hero, Art Simon, who still calls to order books from time to time. And, of course, we’ve had book displays at events with John Perkins. (When I pulled together chapters for the book I edited, Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life I knew I had to have John Perkins as a contributor and that worked out nicely.
That generation of Biblically-wise, gospel-centered and socially-engaged leaders generated some excellent, lasting books and it is among our greatest privilege to have met them and served their organizations. We even had a tiny hand in making available the surprise book to honor Ron that came out in 2013, Following Jesus: Journeys in Radical Discipleship: Essays in Honor of Ronald J. Sider which we raved about here at BookNotes and took to a surprise banquet at Ron’s retirement a decade ago.
Time doesn’t allow me to highlight all of our on-the-road adventures but it generated, until recent years, more than a third of our income (and a third of our time) pretty much up until the Covid pandemic, which we still take very seriously. As events dried up, so did that income. We’ve never been particularly successful, financially speaking, hardly breaking even most years, and that hit to our bottom line has been nearly fatal. We will see how we move forward in this new season, wondering how sustainable this on-line approach will be.
It has been something though — from God guiding me quite literally on late night highways to meeting remarkable workers at hotels and conference centers, from rubbing shoulders with impressive speakers and, most importantly, the many customers we’ve developed from these off site pop-up Hearts & Minds book set-ups. What good conversations we’ve had at these gatherings and how beautiful to have folks trust us to recommend key titles for their needs. It has been a labor of love and we are grateful to all who have allowed us to carry on.
Sure, we’ve had some goofs at our events — wrong books taken, dumb stuff shown, mis-understanding the needs of the moment. Once a speaker at a major conference told us about a book he was going to highlight, even informing us of his plan to show it on a powerpoint screen. This is golden to the ears of booksellers ears so we took a large stack of this expensive text, displaying it prominently. Alas, the expert was showing it all right — to critique it and say why nearly everything about it was wrong. Yikes! So many people rushed back to our display tables to tell us that the speaker hated this book that we were featuring. We quickly hid them underneath the tables and took a bath sending them all back.
Which for some reason sort of reminds me of a time we were selling books with a gentleman running for President. The secret service guys had to search our empty boxes below our tables and the book signing thing was called off. Sigh.
Once we were doing at a big conference in DC. Because the event was in a federal building near the White House we had to first take the van to a special location to be swept, underneath and inside; standard post 9-11 security, I guess. Whew. Later, once we entered the beautiful space and the gathering started we kept losing our wireless signal to connect our credit card processor, creating a bit of a hassle for the very patient customers. Classy and important speakers were in the house and this was embarrassing. We later found out that every time White House vehicles drove by they used scrambler devices, momentarily knocking out radio reception, for their own security. No wonder our tech support team had no idea what was going on. Ha.
And once, selling books at an event with Tim Keller, in a fancy museum in a city that won’t be named, I was encouraged to load-out by a back door, long after everyone was gone. Even the security folks seemed absent so it was just me, my hand truck, and 25 foot tall dinosaurs in the glow of exit lights and the late night shadows. I’m telling you, it was spooky, to say the least.
We’ve laughted with folks we’ve met on the road, cried with some, pushed back feelings of resentment when we were given crummy display locations or when we were asked to remove certain unpalatable books from our display. After an all night set-up at Princeton once we were commanded to take everything down due to a misunderstanding of the contract; they were wrong, by the way, and the group we were to serve never went back there for their annual gathering. But we lost money sending back a whole lot of merchandise we never got a chance to sell. Wow — I forgot about that!
We’ve be sucked into arguments at some book displays and we’ve prayed with people we hardly knew. (Once, I crawled under a skirted table to escape the hubbub and noise in order to prayerfully lead a guy to Christ.) We’ve be bemused by ceiling tiles falling on us and water pipe leaks soaking our display (twice — once in Lancaster and once in Boston.) We’ve had stuff stolen and we’ve had stuff returned from previous years. We’ve strategized with planners and griped with hurting participants and celebrated happily most times.
We’ve had off-site book signings with everybody from Lisa Sharon Harper to N.T. Wright to Eugene Peterson to John Perkins and Chuck Colson and Donald Miller and Phil Yancey and Bob Goff and the late Michael Gerson; we often found ourselves in awe of how authors and readers connect as we’ve watched it all unfold. Our daily grind here in Dallastown has plenty of special moments and we love our ordinary, small town folks. (Who, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, are no ordinary mortals after all.)
But there has been something good for us, given our interests and inventory, to be out where groups are. We’ve learned to care about so many topics — from global missions to medical ethics, from Reformed theology to the interface of faith and the arts, from so much about the liturgical arts and worship to Christian creation care and climate change — and gearing up for off site events has made us better booksellers and more aware Christians. Thank you all, thank you.
If our earliest years were most urgently focused on local activism and building our brand in our area, so to speak, while fighting off the big chains, our middle years were spent often on the road, meeting up with people who care about books, but fighting off the allure of Amazon. It still dismays me when big publishers like Zondervan and big name authors have exclusive Amazon links in their social media ads, insinuating that they are the best (only?) place to buy books. It’s like a disrespectful kick in the gut, a matter we take personally. Please read the marvelously rich Fulfillment: American in the Shadow of Amazon by Alec McGillis for a riveting, multi-faceted, social history of the impact Amazon has in so many places in our culture these days. For a more activist handbook, see the punchy, little How to Resist Amazon and Why: The Fight for Local Economics, Data Privacy, Fair Labor, Independent Bookstores, and a People-Powered Future by bookseller Danny Caine. In any case, given their reputation for selling pirated copies, their announced goal of killing of independent bookstores, their market-skewing habit of (sometimes) selling below cost (they don’t have to make money on books since they make their money on electronics and tires and porn, etc. etc.) They are tax-cheats, cut-throat, a union-busting force serving Mr. Bezos who, they say, profits $150,000 every single an hour.
Interested in reading a bit more about us and recent bookselling woes? I sort of hate to brag but it’s our 40th anniversary, to here ya go, a very nicely done piece in The Christian Century a few years ago. Kudos to Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans for putting this together.
As more and more bookstore chains closed, then, and faith-based stores were in decline, we found that religious publishing was nonetheless fresh and as interesting as ever. From all quarters — think Crossway and Broadleaf, think Presbyterian & Reformed and Herald Press, think IVP and Eerdmans, think New Growth Press and WJK, Convergent and Baker and Brazos, just to mention mostly Protestant houses — there are great writers doing often very creative thinking, offering faithful interpretation, writing fresh, helpful books. So much good work is being published. We can’t stop now, we often quip, because this book or that book is coming out next season. We sure don’t want to miss telling our customers about those!
Which, in a way, tells a story of our recent years. We have shifted increasingly away from the strenuous on-the-road events and with Covid, we’ve been closed for in-store browsing. Which is to say, except for some fun backyard customer service and curbside delivery, we are doing mostly mail order business. Our online reviews and orders are what is keeping us afloat at this point.
We are glad to be in correspondence with so many people asking such good questions. I enjoy making lists of the best books on this topic or that finest resources on that topic. I don’t always have ready answers but often we do. Especially when customers tell us a bit about themselves or who the reader will be, we can focus on finding just the right resources for any sort of person with nearly any sort of question or bookish need. It is time consuming and mentally demanding but there is little that brings me more joy than to have a customer say that they were pleased with the dozen books I recommended and they’d soon be ordering several. Hooray.
Yep, it was forty years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. And with God’s help, we are still learning. It is an art and a science, it seems, to run a bookstore and we are humbled by the thought of being in this work. Perhaps you saw my CT piece reviewing the somewhat too highbrow but much discussed In Praise of Good Bookstores by Jeff Deutsch. He’s an amazingly knowledge and passionate bookseller and it is really something to be found in the company of those who care about such places as Hearts & Minds.
We are glad to be able to serve folks from all over by sending out almost any book they may want.
(Except, sadly — an increasingly poignant problem — when an author chooses to self-publish a book that isn’t sold through ordinary stores. Many good folks choose to work with Amazon-owned self-publishing platforms and use that, then, as their primary if not exclusive sales strategy. It is an unjust and unwise business model, in my view, but I get it. In any case, we can get almost anything, unless it is a self-published book on an Amazon-owned vanity press platform that is not congenial to the book being sold in real bookstores.)
Send us an order, please. Get your church or organization to send us some orders. Tell your friends. Our finances are such that some have suggested we do a “go fund me” sort of thing, but we’re really not inclined to do that. We just want more folks to become more than a customer. As we get readers to join with us, we can spread the good word about good books. It can make a difference — that’s why we took up this work 40 years ago. Join us, again, won’t you?
THANKS FOR CARING.
CODA: Here is a little part of our story that unfolded five years ago as we were quietly celebrating our 35th anniversary as a retailer on a busy 2017 Black Friday. In walks Ned and Leslie Bustard, Alan and Diana Di Pasquale Bauer, the principles of the lovely little publishing outfit Square Halo Books. Beth and I love these folks and really, really appreciate their excellently made books. Ned is a graphic designer by trade and his art often illustrates their books. You maybe noticed that in our last BookNotes last week the lead title I highlighted was 33: Reflections on the Gospel of Saint John a book of Biblically-inspired poetry by Andrew Roycroft (with a forward by Malcolm Guite and art by Ned Bustard.) Just naming it here to show that we do enjoy celebrating their new releases.
Anyway, the Square Halo crew brought us a box of upscale cupcakes, a fabulous treat and a fine celebration. But then they brought in a case of a new book. Without our awareness they had created a surprise book to honor us. It is called A Book for Hearts & Minds: What To Read and Why: A Festschrift in Honoring the Work of Hearts & Minds Bookstore. It lists for $18.99 and we still have it at the BookNotes 20% off, making it just $15.19. It is a collection of BookNotes-like columns with all sorts of experts (some of them friends of ours) weighing in on what books are most important in their given field. From Calvin Seerveld to N.T. Wright to David Gushee to Karen Swallow Prior to Matthew Dickerson there are bunches of chapters. There are wise entries on the best books on poetry and memoir, the arts, ecology, cooking (Andi Ashworth does a great job), urban planning (Tom Becker), sociology (Brad Frey), law (Mike Schutt) and there is a chapter of books about vocation by Steve Garber. And there is more.
Also, Ned transcribed an informal talk I gave a number of years back which he made into a foreword — it captures some of the energy of my passionate presentation about books and reading, maybe, although isn’t precise, I suppose. So there you have it, a tremendous book for those who love books. It strikes me that much of the book is valuable regardless of any Hearts & Minds tribute. The chapters are just solid, good, work.
(In this sense it reminds me of a new Square Halo Book, a tribute which surprised Tim Keller as he retired just earlier this summer. That book is fabulous and while it honors Keller, the chapters are solid in their own right. That one is called The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller. I’m a fan.)
I blush a little — a lot, really — sharing this, but here’s a page from the Square Halo Books webpage, highlighting A Book for Hearts & Minds: What to Read and Why. I have never shared this and unless you bought the book, you’ve not seen it. Maybe that is fine, but here on our 40th, I figured we’d share this embarrassingly generous outpouring of friendship by a bunch of folks we deeply admire. For what it’s worth…
THE SQUARE HALO BLOG
We first met Byron Borger when It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God was just coming out. He was immediately supportive of Square Halo Books, and ever since then has promoted our titles with gusto. We make it a practice to always release our books to his store first, and he always has our titles in stock. Around here we affectionately refer to Hearts & Minds as “The Official Bookstore of Square Halo.”
We were delighted to publish the book he edited called Serious Dreams, but for the last few years there has been a jovial argument between us about publishing a book collecting Byron’s BookNotes into one volume. Byron insisted no one would want such a thing. He is a bookseller and knows his business, so maybe he was right about that. But not to be discouraged from featuring Byron in a book, we changed our tack and secretly organized a festschrift in honor of the work that Byron and Beth do through Hearts & Minds. Now, festschrift is an unusual word, to be sure. It is defined as “a collection of writings published in honor of a scholar.” If you wonder whether or not a lowly bookseller is worthy of this sort of honor, read these commendations from these respected writers and scholars to learn why A Book for Hearts & Minds needed to be written:
Byron and Beth Borger have been a gift to both authors and readers. Unapologetic champions of the life of the mind, their work has been a ministry to generations of Christians who have discovered that God’s joy and delight is as wide as the world itself. Curators of the imagination, stewards of the tradition, priests of print, they have always done more than sold books: they have furnished faithful minds and hearts. This book is a lovely testimony to that good work.—James K.A. Smith, Calvin College, author of You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit
When I want to know how to think about the things that matter most, I trust Byron Borger to point me in the right direction—never telling me what to think, but ready with endless resources to help me discover how to think in the best ways. He and Beth have made me, on countless occasions, feel like the most treasured writer and person in the world, as I suspect they have done for many of the contributors to this volume. Their impact in hearts and minds is now multiplied, through these pages and in the lives of countless readers they’ve guided and nurtured through the years. May this smart personal volume make you curious enough to buy a book—this book!—for readers you love, at Hearts & Minds Bookstore.—Margot Starbuck, author of Small Things with Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor
Byron Borger is a true believer. Like the lineup of insightful essayists who contributed to this book in his honor, Borger believes that reading the right book at the right time can supply just the kind of provocation, insight, or solace we need, when we need it. —Cameron J. Anderson, author of The Faithful Artist: A Vision for Evangelicalism and the Arts
Byron Borger spent his life making us all richer by introducing us to authors and ideas that helped us flourish. Some of his suggested readings made us laugh, made us angry, made us wrestle—but each made us better people. We honor you and we are indebted to you. Thank you for discovering the good and true and beautiful and spending your life generously sharing it with us.—Margaret Feinberg, author of Flourish: Live Free, Live Loved
While living and teaching in New York City I had been hearing about the Hearts & Minds Bookstore for some time. And then one day I was lured to a speaking engagement for The Row House in Lancaster, PA with the promise of a visit to the bookstore. How could I say no? My expectations were high and, boy, were they met. I felt like a gambling addict stumbling into a casino. Suffice it to say that on my return trip to the city I traveled back home with far more baggage than I had left with. This book is a tantalizing taste of what it is like to visit that magical place. It makes me dream of returning there to restock! —Harry Bleattler, chair of the Media, Culture, and the Arts program at The King’s College, New York City
Byron and Beth Borger represent everything that is right with bookstores. He is a thoughtful and winsome curator of ideas and prose in moment when most booksellers are crass consumerists. Thank God for Byron, and thank God for Hearts & Minds! —Jonathan Merritt, contributing writer for The Atlantic and author of Learning to Speak God from Scratch
How fitting this splendid collection is as a tribute to Byron and Beth Borger, partners and booksellers extraordinaire whose life-long vision and ambitions exemplify the idea of Christian vocation and faithful living. Featuring an array of writers commenting on influential works in their fields, this volume represents the fruit of the Hearts & Minds enterprise and will no doubt encourage the same lively discourse we’ve come to associate with Bryon’s own booklists. —William D. Romanowski, Calvin College, author of Reforming Hollywood: How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies
I thank God for Byron and Beth Borger—they are such solid gold people, and friends as well. Without them, many a thoughtful Christian writer would be on the endangered species list in the face of the tsunami of Big Data recommended reading. While Hearts & Minds exists, serious Christian books can live too. —Os Guinness, author of Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization
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The weight and destination of your package varies but you can use this as a general guide:
There are generally two kinds of US Mail options, and, of course, UPS. If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too. Just ask.
- United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but can be slow. For one typical book, usually, it’s about $3.69; 2 lbs would be $4.36.
- United States Postal Service has another option called “Priority Mail” which is $8.50, now, if it fits in a flat rate envelope. Many children’s books and some Bibles are oversized so that might take the next size up which is $9.20. “Priority Mail” gets much more attention than does “Media Mail” and is often just a few days to anywhere in the US.
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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown PA 17313
No, Covid is not fully over. Since nobody is reporting their illnesses anymore, it is tricky to know the reality but the best measurement is to check the water tables to see the amount of virus in the eco-system. And it’s still bad. And with new stuff spreading, many hospitals are really overwhelmed. It’s important to be particularly aware of how risks we take might effect the public good. It is complicated for us, so we are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health (and the safety of our family, staff, and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise. Thanks for understanding.
Please, wherever you are, do your best to be sensitive to those who are most at risk. Many of our friends, neighbors, co-workers, congregants, and family members may need to be protected since more than half of Americans (it seems) have medical reasons to worry about longer hazards from even seemingly mild Covid infections.
We are doing our famous curb-side and back yard customer service and can show any number of items to you if you call us from our back parking lot. It’s sort of fun, actually. We are eager to serve and grateful for your patience as we all work to mitigate the pandemic. We are very happy to help do if you are in the area, do stop by.
Of course, we’re happy to ship books anywhere. Just tell us how you want them sent.
We are here 10:00 – 6:00 EST / Monday – Saturday, closed on Sunday.