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Episodes in a Reading Life: Smith Family Bookstore, Eugene, Oregon

Smith Family Book Store is the tag on hundreds of my books. It would take too long to count them. Places shape souls. This place, a used bookstore, formed me intellectually.

When I moved to Eugene, Oregon, in 1976, for my second year of college, I discovered a large used bookstore one block from my studio apartment and one block from Northwest Christian College. I attended there for two quarters before transferring to the University of Oregon. This sanctuary for book buffs was a mere block from the University of Oregon and became my intellectual epicenter.

Roaming the stacks contributed as much to my education as the books assigned for my courses. I read of Viktor Frankl in my Introduction to Psychology class. At Smith Family, I found a copy of his book, Man’s Search for Meaning for only 95 cents. One of the great books of the twentieth century—on par with C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man and several others—Frankl’s seminal work still has a place in my library.

That first year in Eugene was a lonely one. However, First Baptist Church became my spiritual home. Dr. Jack MacArthur’s powerful and eloquent preaching and Pastor Mike Hilty’s teaching for our college group grounded me in Scripture and the Christian life, as did my new Christian friends. Yet I lived by myself, was often melancholy, did not have a girlfriend, and found myself ensconced in books—those for college courses and those from Smith Family and other bookstores. I was a young Christian and a young man who was beginning to sense a hunger for knowledge. Smith Family offered a plethora of used and mostly inexpensive books on every topic of my interest—philosophy, psychology, religion, theology, the Bible, and more.

All bookstores offer serendipity. You never know what book will pop up. You find them and they find you. But in a large used bookstore—especially one in a university town—the selection is vast and a bit unpredictable. You find classics, recent popular books, older popular books, and…obscure out-of-print books. Smith Family sold all their books at half the cover price. The older ones were inexpensive—and tempting. They usually won over a young and aspiring bibliophile.

During my years in Eugene (1976-1984; 1989-1993), Smith Family Bookstore changed locations several times and added a new location outside the university area. I continued to peruse and purchase books, hundreds of them. Upon graduating from The University of Oregon in 1979, I spent the next five years in campus ministry. Vast stretches of time were given to me for reading and writing. I had the university library and Smith Family Bookstore to offer a wealth of books on any subject I wanted to explore. There were many.

When I returned to Eugene for visits in the summers of 2013 and 2014, both locations were still there and ripe for wandering and wondering through the mountains of knowledge. I sent home several boxes of book treasure.

Denver, where I live, is not a university town, as is Eugene. There are a number of schools, but no major university, and therefore, Denver lacks the penumbra of university culture—the coffee shops, music stores, bars, delis, and bookstores. I can find that in Boulder, but not here. There are few used bookstores, and none to compare with the mighty Smith Family. Yet my library has been fed by Smith Family Bookstore; so, it remains with me.

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