John ShoreI needed a job, badly. I was as broke as Wimpy on a Monday. (Young people: google “Popeye the Sailor,” and enjoy learning about that cartoon character’s pal, Wimpy, who was clearly a homeless alcoholic.)

I was also living with a girl named Cat, with whom I was swooningly in love. So I was fairly desperate to prove to Cat that I was the kind of man upon whom she could always depend to at least be a stoner with a JOB.

We were living in San Francisco. There was only one place in that whole city where I wanted to work: the venerable, three-story, glass-fronted independent bookstore in the heart of downtown called Stacey’s.

But the people who worked at Stacey’s seemed to have as much in common with me as I did with David Niven. (Young people: David Niven was . . . oh, forget it.) They were serious, bonafide, hardcore intellectuals. They knew things. They knew a lot about a lot, and were no doubt learning more every day.

Meanwhile, the last thing I had learned was how to open a beer bottle with my teeth. (The key to which, in case you’re wondering, is to deeply and truly give up finding your bottle opener.)

What a young and/or lost person needs most is people around them who have given themselves over to something greater than themselves. And that’s what I found when I entered the world of independent bookstores.

But I told myself that the people who worked at Stacey’s, for all of their formidable gravitas, were lovers of books and words. Well, I was a freak for books, and felt born to be a writer. I used those two rods o’ truth to stir up the pot of courage I needed to walk into that bibliophile’s Disneyland, and ask for a job application.

That night, in neat little letters, I wrote on literally every blank micro-inch of that application. When it was finished, my “Please Hire Me” manifesto looked like an experiment to see how much ink a typical sheet of paper can absorb before it disintegrates.

Having taken in both sides of my mondo-missive, Cat said, “Well, they’ll call you, or they’ll call the police.”

Luckily, they called me. And before I knew it, I was working with three other guys in the shipping and receiving department at Stacey’s, where I spent my days preparing new books to be wheeled out onto the sales floor, ogling publishers’ catalogs, and rushing to be the first to open the latest case in from Random House or Simon & Schuster.

It was 1980. I was 21 years old. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know where I belonged. I’d spent the previous year being a working student at San Francisco State University, and the year before that working the graveyard shift at a chewing gum factory. I couldn’t see one day into my own future.

I wasn’t exactly prepared for life, is the short of it.

I knew I loved Cat (to whom I’ve been happily married since 1981); I knew I loved books; I knew I was a writer. Beyond that, life for me was all it could be, which was basically a brilliant, blinding fog.

Over the next few years I worked at Stacey’s and one other independent bookstore. Those were the two jobs that saved my life. Because they took an idea I had—which was that books and writing, in and of themselves, were worthy of dedicating one’s life to—and made it real.

Today it’s so obvious: of course books and writing are worth dedicating one’s life to. But back then, I wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t sure of anything having to do with the relationship between life and purpose, life and will, life and hope.

Everywhere She's NotBut being around so many books—and mostly being around so many people who had made their passion for books foundational to their lives—changed all of that.

What a young and/or lost person needs most is people around them who have given themselves over to something greater than themselves. And that’s what I found when I entered the world of independent bookstores.

The people who worked in those stores cared. They cared about ideas. They cared about literature, about history, about sociology and science and art. They cared about how positively books can affect the lives of children.

They cared about understanding the world. And through their caring they helped me to understand not just the world, but my place in it.

I moved from working in independent bookstores, to writing for magazines and newspapers, to editing and ghostwriting books, to writing “Everywhere She’s Not,” a novel about a lost young man living in San Francisco in 1980 (whom, we learn in the final chapter, has landed a job at — you guessed it! — Stacey’s).

It’s possible that if things go well with “Everywhere,” I’ll soon be visiting independent bookstores throughout the South. That will of course be so good for sales. But, even more than that, I know how much good going into each and every one of those stores will be for my soul.

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John Shore is the author of “Everywhere She’s Not,” and writes a popular advice column for “The Asheville Citizen Times” newspaper.