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486 Topics: Ask an American – Independent Bookstores; ever since versus ever after; varied versus various; ability versus skill

Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 486.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 486. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. You can become a member of ESL Podcast and download a Learning Guide for this episode. Yes, this episode has a Learning Guide on our website. Go there today and get one.

On this Café, we’re going to have another one of our “Ask an American” segments, where we listen to other native speakers talk at a normal rate of speech – a normal speed. Today we’re going to talk about independent bookstores, or small bookstores that are not owned by large companies. And, as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

Our topic on this Café is independent bookstores. “Independent bookstores” are bookstores – places where, of course, you buy books – that are not owned by a large company. As more and more people buy books online through websites such as Amazon.com here in the U.S. and in other countries, or prefer to read electronic books or e-books, many people are worried that physical bookstores will disappear. But, at least here in the United States, that has not happened yet.

We’re going to listen to some people talking about independent bookstores and why and how they are surviving in the U.S. First we’ll listen to one of the owners of an independent bookstore in northwest Washington, D.C. – a place called “Politics and Pros.” We’ll listen to Lisa Muscatine. She’s going to talk about why she thinks people still want to go to physical bookstores. Let’s listen, and then we’ll explain what she says.


“As people’s lives become more homogenized, more digitized, more anonymous, more impersonal, they . . . they want and crave places to go where they’re interacting with real people, and I think a bookstore, especially, more than almost any institution in the community, provides that.”

[end of recording]

Lisa begins by describing the average person’s life. She says that “people’s lives are becoming more homogenized, more digitized, more anonymous, [and] more impersonal.” Lots of big words there. Let’s try to explain what she’s talking about. We’ll start with the word “homogenized” (homogenized). “To be homogenized” means to be made very similar or the same. I think she’s saying that, perhaps because of the influence of mass media, of popular culture, our lives are more and more becoming similar. I’m not sure if that’s true, but that’s what Lisa thinks.

She also says that our lives are becoming “more digitized” (digitized). “Digitized” refers to things that are digital, such as computers and other electronic media. This I think is definitely true. Our lives are becoming more related to and dependent on computers. She also says that people’s lives are becoming “more anonymous” (anonymous). “To be anonymous” means that no one knows who you are, what your name is. You have an identity which is unknown. I’m not, again, exactly sure what she means here.

Certainly it’s true on many websites that you can be anonymous; perhaps she’s referring to the fact that we’re so connected nowadays with people all over the world that we don’t have that personal connection, that one we used to have before the Internet. That’s another possibility. In fact, she uses the term “impersonal” (impersonal) as another way of describing people’s lives. Something that is impersonal is something that doesn’t involve or isn’t influenced by personal feelings or even personal interactions – talking and communicating with other people.

Because of these reasons, Lisa says that people “want and crave places to go where they are interacting with real people.” “To crave” (crave) means to have a very strong desire to do something, to really want to do something. We often use this verb when we’re talking about food: “I crave a chocolate bar.” That means I really want to eat a piece of chocolate. People crave, according to Lisa, places where they can interact with – or talk with and communicate with – real people. That is, someone who is actually there in front of you, not someone over Skype or on Facebook.

Lisa says that “a bookstore, especially, more than almost any institution in the community, provides that.” An “institution” here refers to some organization or business or a structure within a community, a place where people live. We could think of a bank as an institution in a community. Your local bank would be an institution. Bookstores are institutions in the sense that they are places, they are organizations or businesses, that are part of a community, that are part of a city or a town where people live.

Lisa thinks that bookstores are one of the best places that people can interact with real people. Bookstores provide a place for people to meet other people and to interact with them. Let’s listen once more to Lisa.


“As people’s lives become more homogenized, more digitized, more anonymous, more impersonal, they . . . they want and crave places to go where they’re interacting with real people, and I think a bookstore, especially, more than almost any institution in the community, provides that.”

[end of recording]

Next, we’ll listen to a woman who buys books at this bookstore. She’s going to talk about her love of reading and her preference for independent bookstores. Let’s listen.


“I just love reading and have become a voracious reader and would much rather buy books at an independent bookstore than at one of the mega bookstores or Amazon.”

[end of recording]

The woman says, “I just love reading and have become a voracious reader.” A “voracious (voracious) reader” is someone who reads a lot. The adjective “voracious,” like the verb “to crave,” usually refers to food. Someone who likes to eat, in this case, a lot of food would be a voracious eater. A voracious reader is a person who likes to read a lot.

Not surprisingly, people who read a lot in a language tend to have better language skills, bigger vocabularies – all of these things come from reading. So, if you really want to improve your English – in addition, of course, to listening to ESL Podcast and the English Café – you should read a lot. Most people don’t read, however, to build their vocabularies, but rather simply to have the pleasure, the enjoyment of reading, or the enjoyment that reading gives us.

This woman says that she became a voracious reader., She prefers to buy her books at independent bookstores rather than “at one of the mega bookstores.” The term “mega” (mega) just means big. When she’s talking about “mega bookstores,” then, she’s talking about very large bookstores – in particular, bookstores that are owned by large companies.

So, the word “mega” doesn’t refer so much to the size of the actual bookstore, the physical size of the bookstore, but rather the fact that the bookstore is part of some large company. This woman prefers to buy books from independent bookstores – bookstores that are not owned by large companies. Let’s listen to her one more time.


“I just love reading and have become a voracious reader and would much rather buy books at an independent bookstore than at one of the mega bookstores or Amazon.”

[end of recording]

Now we go back and listen to the owner of this independent bookstore in Washington, D.C., Lisa. Lisa is going to give her opinion about why people still like to buy physical books at independent bookstores, among other places. She’ll explain why she thinks people like to buy books, actual paper books, rather than just reading their books on a Kindle or some other sort of electronic book reader. Let’s listen.


“I think that reading a physical book still provides a tactile experience for people that simply cannot be replicated on a screen.”

[end of recording]

Lisa says that she thinks reading a physical book, or a book that you can hold in your hands, usually made out of paper, provides a tactile experience. “Tactile” (tactile) means related to touch – something you can physically touch, something you can physically feel.

Of course, you can feel a Kindle or a tablet or some other electronic reader in your hand as well, but Lisa is referring to the feeling one has of reading a book made out of paper. It’s a different experience. It is a different kind of tactile experience. Lisa says that the tactile experience of reading a physical book simply cannot be replicated on a screen. The verb “to replicate” (replicate) means to be recreated or copied. A “screen” (screen) is the flat surface on a tablet, or on a monitor, or on your laptop that you look at.

What Lisa is saying here, I think, is that you can’t have the same physical experience with a book by reading it on a computer or on a tablet as you can have reading a book that is made of paper. She’s saying that that experience “cannot be replicated.” You can’t copy it. It can’t be the same as when you would read a book on a screen. Let’s listen to Lisa one more time.


“I think that reading a physical book still provides a tactile experience for people that simply cannot be replicated on a screen.”

[end of recording]

So now we know a little bit about independent bookstores in the United States and why, perhaps, they are surviving even though many people are starting to read books electronically. Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Kazuhiro (Kazuhiro) in Japan. Kazuhiro wants to know how to use two different expressions: “ever since” and “ever after.” Let’s start with “ever since” (since). “Ever since” means throughout the period beginning at a certain point of time in the past. This is easier explained, I think, through a few examples.

Let’s say that you began your new job on January first. You might say, “Ever since I began my new job, I’ve felt happier.” You are talking about something that is currently going on right now, but that began in the past, at a specific point – in this case, January first. It could be a good thing. It could be a bad thing. You could say, “Ever since my neighbor bought a new dog, I have had to listen to the dog making noise and barking in the evenings.” Beginning at the point at which my neighbor bought a dog, I have had this particular problem.

Notice that with “ever since,” since we’re talking about both past and present – something that has started in the past and is continuing on now – we use the present perfect verb tense, with “have” or “has” plus the past participle. So I say, “Ever since my neighbor bought a dog, I have had problems,” or “I have heard noise in the evening.”

The phrase “ever since” is quite common in English. However, the other phrase that we are talking about here, “ever after,” is not used very often in American English. You will see it sometimes in stories, especially stories for children. “Ever after” refers to something that is happening right now and will continue into the future.

The most common use of this expression I suppose would be in the phrase “happily ever after.” Sometimes in traditional children’s stories, we end the story by saying that the people in the story “lived happily ever after,” meaning they continued to be happy into the future for many, many years. So, of the two phrases, “ever since” is by far the most common.

Our second question comes from Leona (Leona) in China. Leona wants to know the difference between “varied” (varied) and “various” (various). These two words are closely related. They have very similar meanings, although we use them in slightly different ways.

“Varied” (varied) refers to the number of different types of something or the number of different kinds of something. You could talk about the “varied options” you have – the different choices. The idea would be that you have lots of different kinds of choices. Not only that you have a lot of them, but that they are each different from the other.

“Varied,” interestingly enough, can be used both with singular and plural nouns. You could talk about varied interest. This would be referring to different kinds of interests, or perhaps different people who have different interests in something. The word “varied” comes from the verb “to vary” (vary) which means to change something, to have different kinds of something.

“Various” is also used to refer to different kinds of things – different examples or different types of things. Of the two terms, “various” is much more common, I would say, than “varied.” People will talk about “various groups” or “various countries” or “various football teams.” “Various” is used with plural nouns to talk about a situation where you have several different things or groups, each of which is somewhat different from the other.

When you’re not sure which adjective to use, “varied” or “various,” I would say in most cases you’ll probably want to use “various.” “There are various options for improving your English.” That means there are many different kinds of options for improving your English.

Our next question comes from Maman (Maman) from the country of Niger. The question has to do with two words, “ability” (ability) and “skill” (skill). Let me start with the second term, “skill.” “Skill” refers to the knowledge that you have, the experience you have, in order to do something well.

You could have skill at a physical activity. In sports, for example, we talk about different skills that you need. “Skills” often relate to a specific kind of thing that is part of a larger activity. So, in the game of, I don’t know, soccer – what the rest of you call “football” – there are a number of different skills involved. You have to be able to run quickly. You have to be able to move your feet in a certain way. You have to be able to kick the ball a long distance or very accurately. All of these are different skills – things that you can work on, things that you can get better at.

“Skill” usually refers to some activity that you can get better at by practicing or by spending more time on it. “Skill” can also be used for intellectual activities. We might talk about someone’s “writing skills,” or “speaking skills,” or even “spelling skills.” This refers to their knowledge and experience that allows them to perform, or to do, certain actions. Sometimes people use “ability” to mean that same concept or to refer to that same concept of skill.

“Ability,” however, often refers to the potential that one has to be able to do something. So, for example, we could talk about someone who has the ability to type 100 words per minute. It doesn’t mean that they are actually typing 100 words per minute; it means that they have that particular capability. Sometimes people refer to ability as something that you are born with, rather than something that you can get better at by training or by experience.

So for example, if we refer to someone’s intellectual ability, we’re probably referring more to the amount of intelligence, shall we say, this person was born with – if you believe in fact that people are born with different levels of intelligence. I don’t want to get into that argument. However, we do use “ability” sometimes to refer to things that one knows or things that one is able to do not because one has experience or education, but because one has a certain natural talent or capacity for that particular thing.

Notice that both words can be plural or singular. You can talk about someone’s “abilities” as well as one’s “skills.” You can also describe someone’s “ability” or “skill” in the singular.

I don’t have very many skills or abilities, but I’m certainly happy to try to answer your questions in English if you have any. You can email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

homogenized – very similar or the same, without variations or differences

* The U.S. army wants its soldiers to be homogenized, so each one receives the same haircut, clothing, and equipment as everyone else.

digitized – saved electronically, related to computers

* To reduce the amount of paper in the office, they’ve scanned all their documents, so now they’re digitized.

anonymous – for one’s name and identity to be unknown

* An anonymous donor gave the university $2 million to expand the library.

to crave – to feel a very strong desire to have something

* Is it true that women crave ice cream and pickles when they’re pregnant?

to interact with – to communicate with someone or at least respond and react to someone

* In his job as a mental health specialist, Brent spends a lot of time interacting with people who are mentally ill.

institution – a building, business, or organization that is part of a community or government

* Our healthcare institutions need to find ways to provide better services at a lower cost.

voracious reader – a person who loves to read, who reads often, and who reads a lot of books

* Lynn is a voracious reader who sometimes reads an 800-page book in just a few days.

independent bookstore – a store that sells books, but is not owned by a large company

* As a newly published author, Angela is reading excerpts of her book at independent bookstores across the country to promote it.

mega – big; very large; corporate

* Gisela hates shopping at mega grocery stores, because it’s hard to find specific items and the checkout lines are too long.

tactile – related to touch and feel

* Babies like tactile experiences with toys and games.

to replicate – to copy or re-create something

* So far, no other laboratory has been able to replicate the results of their scientific experiment.

screen – the flat surface that produces text and images on a computer, television, smart phone, tablet, or e-reader

* The eye doctor said that, for good eye health, it’s important to look away from the screen for at least a few minutes every hour.

ever since – throughout the period since a certain point in time in the past

* Ever since he lost his job, they’ve had trouble paying their rent.

ever after – always after a certain point in time; from that time on

* From that moment and ever after, they never mentioned the incident again.

varied – showing or including a number of different types or elements

* This museum displays the varied styles of weaving developed by Native Americans.

various – different from one another; having different kinds or sorts

* The school sponsors various sports camps and other extra-curricular activities for students.

ability – skill needed to do something well

* We need to hire someone with the ability to perform multiple tasks simultaneously in a high-pressure environment.

skill – knowledge or means to do something well

* Do you have any graphic design skills?

What Insiders Know
Niche Bookstores

Many people believe that the most important thing for “survival” (ability to continue existing without going out of business) for “indie” (independent) bookstores is to become a “niche” bookstore, specializing in a certain type of literature and serving a small but specific group of customers. A quick look at popular bookstores in New York City seems to “confirm that belief” (make it seem like what people say is true).

For example, an indie bookstore called Singularity & Co. in New York specializes in “out-of-print” (no longer being printed by the publisher) “science fiction” (related to the future, fantasy, and outer space) novels. Each month, the store publishes a “rare” (very uncommon and hard to find) science fiction novel for its customers. And Partners & Crime Mystery, also in New York, specializes in “mystery novels” (books where the reader tries to figure out who committed a crime).

Another indie bookstore in New York City, called Honey & Wax Booksellers, specializes in rare books of all “genres” (types of literature). Some of the books are “affordable” (with a price that most people are able to pay), but others cost thousands of dollars. The niche bookstore primarily “caters to” (serves) “wealthy” (rich) “collectors” (people who want to have and display many similar objects).

Other niche bookstores focus more on “differentiating” (making different from other things that are available) their “ambiance” (environment) and improving the “shopping experience” (how it feels to shop somewhere) for customers. For example, Molasses Books, also in New York, now offers coffee, beer, and wine along with a large selection of books.