For Sean Doolittle, a trip to the bookstore is a sensory experience. “There’s something about holding [a book], it just smells cool.”
And reading for Doolittle? “It’s kind of evolved over time,” he said. “I’ve had other hobbies, I have other things I tried: Video games, watching movies, you know? I love my job, but it can be a little stressful at times. And reading has become a really healthy escape.”
His job is that of a major league pitcher for the Washington Nationals – a dream come true, but with it comes an inconsistent schedule and plenty of pressure.
“CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Dana Jacobson asked Doolittle, “Do you remember which came first – your love of books, or your love for baseball?”
“Baseball came before a lotta things in my life,” he said. “I played all sports growing up. Baseball was always my favorite, though.”
Books, he said, were just always there. With teachers in his family, an emphasis was put on the importance of education and reading. “I could never go to practice or to a game unless I’d finished my homework.”
Jacobson asked, “Do you remember a first book as a kid where it just opened your eyes and your imagination and you remember thinking, ‘I need more of this’?”
“‘Goosebumps’ and sportsbooks,” he said. “I loved reading those kinds of books, but then there were books that I had to read for school that I wasn’t super-excited about reading. Even still to this day, I’m still going back and reading some of the books I was probably supposed to have read in high school, you know? I just read ‘Lord of the Flies.‘ I loved it. It was awesome. But when I was in tenth grade, I really wasn’t that psyched about it.”
Doolittle’s reignited passion for books has enhanced more than just his own personal library; it’s created a personal mission.
Back in April, he began posting on social media about what he was reading — and the independent bookstores he shopped in during each major league stop. He started with New York’s McNally Jackson Bookstore in Soho.
“To me, it’s just so cool the way that these bookstores create this inviting, inclusive space,” Doolittle said.
“It’s a community center, really?” Jacobson asked.
“Yeah, it really is. It’s a lot more than a bookstore. And early on, I didn’t think of it in my head as a way to save local bookstores. This was just, like, an adventure I was gonna go on.”
Doolittle’s adventure was a hit on social media. His passion and platform combined to raise the profile of not just the shops where he snapped pictures, but others like them across the country.
And that exposure is priceless, says Christine Onorati, owner of the independent WORD bookstores in Jersey City, New Jersey and Brooklyn.
Jacobson asked Onorati, “What is it like owning a local bookstore in the year 2019?”
“Online shopping has really sort of affected our entire world,” she replied. “But I think that we serve a purpose in our communities that makes us a little different than a lot of other retail stores. That’s why somebody like Sean, who’s shining a spotlight on books and how important they are, will always be a great thing.”
Mark Pearson agrees. He’s co-founder and CEO of Libro.fm, an app which allows you to download an audiobook, then split the proceeds with a local bookstore of your choice. There are about 800 stores currently affiliated with Libro.fm.
“We are doubling every year,” Pearson said. “And when Sean Doolittle sent his tweet out, you know, we had a record day. When he says that it’s cool to buy audiobooks and books from your local bookstore, it sends the message that books and bookstores matter, and where you buy them makes a difference. By giving your money to them, you keep that going. You keep reading alive in the community.”
And that is the real win.
Doolittle said, “There’s a lot of really kind of alarming statistics when it comes to literacy rates in kids in the United States. Over half of kids who are in fourth grade read below basic level – that’s a really crucial time for them because there’s so many indicators about where they’re at in fourth grade can determine where they go in their education level down the road.”
“It’s a little surreal,” he said of his bookstore mission. “This started out as something that I was doing just ’cause it was a hobby that I enjoy. But it’s been a really rewarding experience. If you can get kids excited about reading, maybe that can open up a whole other world for them.”