M. Judson Booksellers is located downtown Greenville, South Carolina, right on Main Street. This is your quintessential bookstore, complete with comfy chairs, hardwood floors, and high-brow autobiographical material authored by Willie Nelson.

I walked inside and was immediately greeted by The Smell.

You know The Smell. It is the sacrosanct aroma found inside all establishments that peddle the printed word. I could live on this smell. It is the fragrance of libraries, bookstores, and newsstands. The smell is one part paper, one part soy-based ink. The scent is a narcotic for book nerds.

Oh, how I love books. I love them too much.

I was a dropout, you see. Not long after my father’s funeral I simply decided to quit going to school. We were rural people. Back then it wasn’t unusual for a kid to stop showing up for class. Happened all the time.

Today, of course, you couldn’t get away with such idiocy. You try dropping out today and you’ll end up in juvenile hall, chained to a desk, forced to read Tolstoy. Currently, there are even laws in some states where dropouts cannot receive driver’s licenses.

Times have certainly changed. Because back in the day if you quit school, nothing happened. Nobody made a fuss. And so I willingly became a loser.

And that’s the thing about dropouts. They don’t like themselves very much. I realize I’m generalizing here, but almost every dropout I’ve ever met feels one of two ways about themselves:

They are either deeply ashamed, or they are falsely arrogant. Both attitudes are creeks shooting from the same ugly river. A river named Inferiority Complex.

Many dropouts also feel one of two ways about books: They either love them, or they avoid them like head lice.

I’ve worked alongside dropouts on construction jobsites who had severe aversions to books, refusing to use them for anything but leveling imbalanced tables and killing cockroaches.

And then, of course, you have the maladjusted dropouts who felt so inadequate, so painfully embarrassed about their dismal education, that they overcompensated by reading everything but the phonebook. I was that guy.

I was the guy who, deep down, just wanted to feel worthy. Worthy of what, I don’t know. Love maybe. I guess that’s all anyone wants, really. Love.

So anyway, now you know how dropouts feel.

But getting back to my original point—which I’ve almost forgotten—to make up for my childhood inadequacies, I would read books. I read lots of books. Stacks of books. Himalayas of books.

And as much as I’d like to pat myself on the back and call this obsession with printed words admirable, it wasn’t. For me, it was as though I were atoning for something by reading so much. Like I was trying to prove myself.

Still, reading is pleasure for me. And it has gotten me through some hard times in my adulthood. Reading has gotten me through heartache, bereavement, disappointment, and it certainly helped me through the eleven years I spent as a freshman in community college.

Simply put, I like myself better when I am reading. When I have a book in my hand, I have a friend. I have someone who doesn’t judge me. A friend who speaks to me as an equal.

And somehow, no matter which story I wade into, once the book is finished, I am a hole bunch more smarter than i was befor.

It is for this reason that I believe books are the greatest invention mankind has ever given us aside from non-stick skillets.

Which is why when I was browsing the bookshelves in the M. Judson Booksellers storefront I became intoxicated by my surroundings.

It was the scent that did it. The whole room smelled like paper, coffee, and aged wood. I ran my hand across the spines of a thousand-and-three books while the murmur of whispering customers filled the room.

I listened to the sound of pages being turned by prospective book buyers. I heard the thoughtful recommendations made by employees. I watched a little girl read “The Giving Tree” while swinging her legs.

And then it happened.

When I made my way to one of the store’s main bookshelves, I saw something staring at me. Eye level. A book.

I picked up this particular book and held it, just to feel its weight. For I knew this book. I knew it well.

Then I wiped my teary eyes. Because printed upon the cover of this book was my first and last name. All twelve letters of me.

My life was printed within those pages. My heart was beneath the dust jacket. The memory of my editors’ loving guidance and encouragement, given to a common dropout.

I let go of the book and felt downright dizzy. Then I walked out of the store, absently smiling at each employee like a drunken moron. And for the rest of the day my feet never touched the ground.

Because for some reason I didn’t feel like a loser anymore.

53 comments

  1. Joan H Kennedy - November 23, 2021 6:36 am

    Did you mean to write “befor”??
    Love you Sean!!!

    Reply
    • Margaret - November 23, 2021 11:52 am

      I know that magical bookstore feeling well, in a sort of “while world in your fingertips” sort of way. Yesterday was my first introduction to your work, so I am glad to know it is available in my hometown bookstore. I’d rather buy it there than order it online….for the sake of the “magic” and all. Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
    • Lucinda Harding - November 23, 2021 12:10 pm

      Don’t you think, Joan, that entire phrase is classic Sean humor?

      Reply
    • Donna M Wood - November 23, 2021 12:38 pm

      He also wrote “hole bunch more smarter” in the same paragraph. He was joking.

      Reply
    • imcdbw - November 23, 2021 1:11 pm

      Joan, I was startled by that error as well. Then I reread the entire error-ridden sentence. Ah! Sean was illustrating how his lack of conventional educational achievement made him feel. At least, I think that’s what he was doing. However, I am absolutely certain the errors are intentional.

      Reply
    • Jerry & Randi Hicklin - November 28, 2021 1:45 pm

      Yes he did

      Reply
  2. Christina - November 23, 2021 7:00 am

    Your memoir is one of the most hilarious, gut wrenching, moving stories that I’ve read. Truly a gift in every way, and an honest journey of loss and redemption to the losers inside of us all finding our way home.

    Reply
  3. Trudy - November 23, 2021 9:22 am

    You are no loser, Sean Dietrich. You bring joy to many. I can’t wait to read your words every morning.

    Reply
  4. Laura PB - November 23, 2021 9:35 am

    ❤️❤️❤️ I love your writing and perspective, thanks for sharing your joy!

    Reply
  5. Dianne DeVore - November 23, 2021 10:18 am

    You are not a loser, Sean. Thank you for all you do for people.

    Reply
  6. Ann - November 23, 2021 10:43 am

    The smell that brings sooo many memories….and “ your” book…is a book so well written, an emotional roller coaster and insight to a talented writer. Thank you for your wonderful words!

    Reply
  7. Kelly - November 23, 2021 11:01 am

    I agree with Trudy!

    Reply
  8. Debbie - November 23, 2021 11:05 am

    How wonderful!

    Reply
  9. David Feder - November 23, 2021 11:31 am

    I am one of those people fortunate enough to know that very same feeling. You describe it perfectly!

    Reply
  10. Josie McCamish - November 23, 2021 11:49 am

    Perfect, Sean! This should be required reading for every self-doubting student & book lover.

    Reply
  11. niobrarariverrat - November 23, 2021 11:55 am

    I, too, know and love that paper and ink smell. I’ve published my very first book, and reading your column makes me wonder if I’ll ever have that same experience walking into a bookstore one fine day. Keep up the good work! S.G. Benson

    Reply
  12. Randy - November 23, 2021 12:02 pm

    You’re a beautiful man ! I love to wake up and read your stories every kotning

    Reply
  13. Debbie g - November 23, 2021 12:02 pm

    I’m with you Sean. Befor. I start readn. I could not spell dung either. 😂😂😂😂love y’all to the moon. And love to us al

    Reply
  14. John Humphries - November 23, 2021 12:19 pm

    If you’re still in Greenville I’d be honored if you’d join mr for lunch at OJ’s Diner. Fried Chicken, mac & cheese, green beans, all as good as mama made ‘em.

    Reply
  15. Anne Arthur - November 23, 2021 12:30 pm

    One of the most successful writer and blogger, Mr. Sean of the South! No loser, never ever.
    I love your book story, Sean.

    Reply
  16. Ruth Ann - November 23, 2021 12:33 pm

    Yes, I am among those of you who are afraid to leave the house without a book under your arm. What if I get caught in traffic for 10 minutes and don’t have nothing to read? That voice inside your head that says you’re a loser is lying to you. Don’t listen to it any more! okay? I enjoy your writing.

    Reply
  17. Suellen - November 23, 2021 12:36 pm

    My grandfather was born in 1892. He was one of 10 kids though not all of them made it to adulthood. He had to quit school in the 2nd grade to help out on the farm but he was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. He started by reading all the encyclopedias. He could look at the sky and tell you what the weather would be tomorrow and be more accurate than our modern weathermen. He could grow anything and after my pitiful attempts at gardening I realize more what knowledge that takes. He could build things. Homes, garages, furniture without using patterns. He was smart in all the things that mattered to make a good life. Maybe the degree isn’t that important. I’m just imagining what it would feel like to find your own book in a bookstore. Proof of all your struggles and hard work there in your hands and you made it.

    Reply
  18. Christine - November 23, 2021 12:37 pm

    I am a hole bunch more smarter than I was befor.
    So funnnyyy.

    Reply
  19. Maggie Priestaf - November 23, 2021 1:08 pm

    You are definitely not a loser…

    Reply
  20. Antonia Gammage - November 23, 2021 1:17 pm

    My library book club read Stars of Alabama this month. Most of them LOVED it for the sheer kindness of the characters towards each other (and the short chapters).

    Stars is Mayberry (my favorite show ever) to me, but set in hard times, maybe the hardest times, as my mother recounted to me her history of those bleak days.I read your autobio also, and see some parts of my family in there as well. I hope you will write your mother’s story someday too.

    I taught GED for many years and met the most wonderful people,including Leon, a very tall (like Vern) Native Lakota ex-felon who taught me geometry, and many , many , many others whose gifted me with their own life lessons beyond this temporal plain.

    Reply
  21. Kjl - November 23, 2021 1:32 pm

    Congratulations Sean. Love your writing. Hope to see my book on a shelf soon!

    Reply
  22. Anna - November 23, 2021 1:35 pm

    “The scent is a narcotic for book nerds” Lol — love it, love it! Sean, you are a 100% gift to all who reads you. Our Almighty God has gifted you with a very unique talent to take care of us other nerds here on earth. We are grateful. Best wishes to you and your loved one’s this holiday season.

    Reply
  23. Lisa Anne Tindal - November 23, 2021 2:12 pm

    Just so good.

    Reply
  24. Jan - November 23, 2021 2:21 pm

    Love this! Love books! Love You!

    Reply
  25. Cynthia Staton - November 23, 2021 2:26 pm

    First of all, Sean, you are not a loser. Far from it. You have a great gift that you share with others. Second, I am a book lover, too. I get a little panicky if I don’t have something to read. Reading is my tranquilizer. And reading your writing is great therapy for all. Keep it up. We all love you.

    Reply
  26. Stacey Wallace - November 23, 2021 2:34 pm

    You were never a loser, Sean. You are a gifted writer, and this retired English teacher loves to read your column every day. Please keep writing; the world needs your words. I have enjoyed two of your novels and have requested more for my birthday and Christmas from my husband. Thanks so much for starting my days off right.

    Reply
  27. Shelton A. - November 23, 2021 3:05 pm

    You’ve been published several times now. Congrats and Happy Thanksgiving to you and Jamie (and, of course, to your hat eating dogs!). You got your GED and you graduated with a degree. You are an educated, accomplished writer. And a fantastic story-teller. You a definitely not a loser. Nope.

    Reply
  28. Tommy O. - November 23, 2021 3:23 pm

    Have you read “Camino Island,” and “Camino Winds” by John Gresham?

    Reply
  29. Nancy Carnahan - November 23, 2021 4:11 pm

    Apparently, I taught myself to read. My dad said I was reading before I started to school. I don’t remember the first book I read, but I read Jane Eyre in 4th grade. I read constantly and while I love books, I read so much that a Kindle works best for me nowadays. I ended up with so many books and had to give them away. You can only store so many! I’m currently on my third trip through the Outlander series, waiting for #9 coming soon.
    Happy Thanksgiving y’all.

    Reply
  30. Patricia Gibson - November 23, 2021 4:15 pm

    You are giving so much to so many every day❤️

    Reply
  31. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - November 23, 2021 5:11 pm

    I feel that way when I go into a bookstore especially the ones who sell coffee too. It is hypnotic! Aren’t you glad you have books there contributing to that smell?

    Reply
  32. Bob - November 23, 2021 5:43 pm

    Well said Sean! I believe as well that you have a million or so that would agree.

    Reply
  33. Frances - November 23, 2021 6:57 pm

    I love M. Judson and pretty much every other bookstore anywhere. M. Judson and Shoeless Joe and the Soleri bells in the trees on Main Street are home to my heart.

    Reply
  34. Patricia Schwindt - November 23, 2021 7:26 pm

    I still don’t know how you do it, but you’ve done it again. I taught writing for 25 years, and I’ve written many stories myself, even (self-) publishec a book, but I can never top you, never mind reach your level! Not even with my MA in English. You lay yourself bare, forcing all of us to relate to you in myriad ways that only God knows, and then you pour healing oil on us. I’ll bet even you don’t realize what an impact you have on thousands, if not millions of hurting souls out here. Please don’t stop.

    Reply
    • Suzanne Moore - November 23, 2021 10:59 pm

      Patricia Schwindt spoke the words right from my heart! I love what you do, Sean. You are a gifted person who shares your gift and your heart with us daily. Please continue! I have all the fancy book learning, English degrees and counseling degrees and years of experience. I could never equal the special talent which you share with us all.Thank you for all that you give.

      Reply
  35. Tim - November 23, 2021 8:29 pm

    Many loathe the word ‘hate’ Almost all hate the ‘N’ word and there are others. But referring to someone as a ‘Loser’ to me is the worst! You are a true blessing to all that have found you! Please never refer to yourself nor anyone God created as a loser.

    Reply
  36. Linda Moon - November 23, 2021 8:52 pm

    I smiled out loud at the title. I love them, too, all these books. One cannot love books too much. I’m not a dropout quite like you, but like you, I love the books. This former Divinity student has no need to explain my “dropoutness” when cancer interrupted my Seminary schooling. You see, your word gift is not compensation or atonement. It’s love. It’s learning. It’s friendship and giving. I’m looking at “The Giving Tree” right now that once belonged to my son, then was passed on to his daughters, and now has come full-circle back to me. Your reasoning at the end of this post was excellent. You get an A+ from me…retired teacher, counselor and ABD dropout. You ain’t no loser, Writer, so never feel that way again!

    Reply
  37. Dee Cook - November 23, 2021 9:41 pm

    Sean, you are a gift. You are serving the purpose God intended, sharing good news. Please remember you are so loved and valued. I would love to give you a big hug, but sending one anyway…

    Reply
  38. Lynette Wedig - November 23, 2021 10:03 pm

    🥰

    Reply
  39. MAM - November 24, 2021 12:35 am

    I completely agree with Dee Cook. Your talent comes from God. And a loser you are NOT. You use the written word better than any other writer today. Truly. Your words flow so well, even when we grammar nerds trip over your errors and then immediately realize they were intended. Thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  40. Susan Wolf - November 24, 2021 12:41 am

    There is nothing like the high of seeing the book you imagine, drafted over and over, and sweated over come into being.

    Reply
  41. Gene - November 24, 2021 3:09 am

    Well, Sean, I had not read your blog this morning, but when I was in a book store today, I saw your name on a book spine too. So I bought it.

    Reply
  42. Chasity Davis Ritter - November 24, 2021 4:07 am

    I love your books and I love your stories and your blogs. You will ALWAYS be SOMEBODY to me!!

    Reply
  43. Dolores S Fort - November 24, 2021 4:34 am

    You are far from a losder, Sean. You have a wonderful, God-given talent,m the ability to paint pictures with words. Everything I have ever read of yours has filled my head and, sometmes, heart,with wonderful pictures. I look forward to reading you every day. Thanks for putting those words on paper so the rest of us can benefit from them.
    God bless you and may He continue to keep that talent flowing!

    Reply
  44. Mary Ann B. - November 24, 2021 6:03 pm

    From one “loser” to another, hooray for you. I’m within a few miles of several bookstores, and I visit them often. But the best feeling of all comes in the “new and used” store close by where that wonderful smell permeates the air, and the owner can put his hand on any volume in stock in a couple of seconds. I’m in northeast Texas, but I think I would feel right at home in the store in your blog. God bless!

    Reply
  45. Kate - November 25, 2021 7:28 am

    So many of us suffer from feeling empty and worthless and lonely throughout our lifetimes, so thank you for your encouragement and reminding us almost everyday that most all of us struggle sometimes with those feeling, but then oh my, look what we all accomplish. Love, truly is the answer, giving love and receiving love, making sacrifices for others, whether it is losing sleep while taking care of others, spending hours in the kitchen, or the garden, or “fixing” things, working at a job so, so many hours to provide for others. Being aware and being grateful and saying thank you and telling others how much you appreciate them goes a long way in changing someone’s image of someone. We are bombarded with all the “ideal” things that we should be in looks, accomplishments, etc. it is hard as a child to understand that we are all worthy and can accomplish wonderful things. Just learning to read is one of them. Books and education (not necessarily schooling) change our lives. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  46. Buddy Caudill - November 26, 2021 7:43 am

    You ARE somebody ! If only a few of the so called “educated” writers were even half as good a writer as you, the world would be a better place.
    Thank you for your honesty. To me, it makes reading your stories even better.

    Reply
  47. Mary Coley - November 27, 2021 3:41 am

    maryleecoley@gmail.com

    Reply

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