The best place in Springfield, BookMarx, is closing after five years. A locally owned bookstore is an improbable thing, especially in 2019 and especially in a mid-sized city in southwest Missouri. Still, the end of this particular improbable thing strikes me as incredibly sad.
I have no claim to BookMarx. I know the people who opened it, Aubrey and Josh, in that Springfield way in which everyone sort of knows everyone, but not well at all. Over the last five years I’ve shopped there maybe a dozen times, which is more than I’ve shopped at most other places but not that much.
My husband, Tony, and I first moved back to Springfield in 2014, the year that BookMarx opened. That same year, I co-hosted my sister’s baby shower at BookMarx, which might have been the first time I ever went inside, I don’t know.
In 2015, my cousin had an art show there, and Tony and I bought one of his paintings. It’s of a Japanese temple and it’s painted in shades of blue. My cousin told us the name of the temple, but I don’t remember it. From across the room the painting looks like a solid blue canvas, but up close it’s very detailed. It was the first thing we hung in our first house in Springfield.
Last fall I did a reading at BookMarx. There was nothing impressive about this, anyone could sign up to read, but it still took some courage. Tony had to stay home to watch our daughter. I waited until the last second to tell anyone I was doing it, and still a friend came to watch me, which was unusually nice. I read a story I wrote in college, since I hadn’t written anything I liked in the last decade.
All of the readings were good that night. BookMarx often hosts readings, along with comedy shows, book clubs, and music. My sadness about its closing is about more than books, though a loss of books is sad enough.
After my reading last fall, I walked out of BookMarx and felt that my daughter, who was two at the time, would be proud of me. Maybe that’s a wrong way to feel (do I need validation from my kid? That’s fucked up!) but I can’t help it. I was proud of myself and felt like my daughter would be proud of me. Shortly after that reading I started writing this blog so that my daughter could keep being proud of me, even though she can’t read yet and is unaware of any of this, thank god.
Every time I go to Bookmarx the owner, Josh, greets me like a new customer. Maybe he really doesn’t remember me, even though I sort of know him. Sometimes I try to make conversation with him, but I always do it very badly and awkwardly, as is my style. Maybe he does know me, but prefers to act as if he doesn’t. I get that.
In any case, I’m not complaining. I like the feeling of being anonymous, and Springfield so rarely affords me that feeling. BookMarx grants me anonymity, and that’s one of many things I like about it and will sincerely miss when it’s gone.
There are lots of things that are weird about life, but the weirdest part to me is how rarely people talk about what we’re all doing here and why. The answer to that Mary Oliver question— “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”—seems to be, for most of us, to go to work and the grocery store and the bank and back home over and over again until we die.
I don’t even like that Mary Oliver poem. My favorite of her poems is the one that starts:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
I don’t own any Mary Oliver books. I should buy one at BookMarx before it closes. Where will I go for books in the future? I know there are other local bookstores in Springfield, and I respect them and wish them well. But it’s not the same.
Last weekend I went out Grand to West Bypass, which is a route I hardly ever take. Tony was driving and our daughter was in her carseat in the back. We passed a field where I once played softball, when I was probably ten or eleven. We passed a house with weird corrugated metal siding and a hand-painted Trump sign.
On the way back home, Tony missed the turn onto Grand. He pulled into a driveway to turn around. The driveway led to a dilapidated duplex. One of the unit’s window’s was boarded over with plywood and another was covered with an American flag. A truck was parked in the driveway and it was clear that people were living in the duplex, even though it was in terrible shape. Out front there were three big trees, all in a line.
The trees were very pretty and incongruous with the setting. I could almost picture someone planting them a long time ago, before the window got boarded over, before the Anheuser-Busch distribution plant was built across the street, before I was born and before my parents moved back to Springfield, when I was six months old.
We drove home and ate Chinese food and put our daughter to bed. That night I cried about BookMarx, even though there are so many better things to cry about, including dilapidated duplexes and poverty and the long-ago misguided optimism that led to the planting of those trees. I thought: none of it means anything, not BookMarx, not the distribution plant, not Mary Oliver, not that field I remember from a long time ago.
“What is a young professional?” is a question I often want to ask here in Springfield. People talk about the need to attract and retain young professionals here, to grow our economy and strengthen our community. This idea may have originated with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce and percolated, or maybe it originated somewhere else and percolated back to the Chamber. It doesn’t really matter to me, because I don’t know what it means.
Is a young professional someone with a disposable income? Someone with an advanced degree? Someone working a white collar job? Someone who owns a bookstore? Who is a young professional in a city with a 25.7% poverty rate, and why is that person worth retaining over any other?
I don’t know if I’m a young professional, but now that it’s going away, I think I know what retains me in Springfield, and the answer is BookMarx. It might seem weird that one bookstore I didn’t go to very often is the answer, but I don’t know how else to explain it. Now that it’s closing I feel like there’s nothing left for me here. The thing about Springfield is, you can feel that way for your whole life.
When I was in high school in Springfield, all of the people who were voted on to the homecoming court had to write down their favorite quote. Their responses were read at the homecoming assembly and football game. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the favorite quote of roughly half of the nominees every year was Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When I think about high school, I think about that bible verse being read over an intercom, again and again.
I don’t like that verse in the same way I don’t like that Mary Oliver quote about one’s precious life. I’ve heard both things too many times, they’ve become meaningless to me. I want the verse from Philippians not about strength, but that goes like this:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Philippians 4:8).
I’ve lived in Springfield most of my life and I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know anything about poverty and I don’t know anything about the Chamber of Commerce and I don’t know anything about what quotes are popular at local high schools these days.
I do know that BookMarx is lovely and excellent and true and noble. It is exceedingly difficult to keep praiseworthy things in mind, but I’ve thought about BookMarx every day since the news of its closing, and it has been a clarifying week. I can do all things through bookstores which strengthen me.
When he announced BookMarx’s closing, Josh wrote that he might open another bookstore someday. I hope he does. Please come back, BookMarx, please, please, please come back.