The other day, before seeing Blue Jasmine (which I found completely depressing) I went shopping in Book Hampton, a small indie. I didn’t have anything in particular that I wanted to buy. I was happy to browse and see how and if I was inspired.
The first thing I did was insert myself into a conversation between an enthusiastic, very young sales clerk and a lady my age looking for a book for a 14 year old boy whom she didn’t know. The three of us got into a discussion of what she DID know about him (he was a good reader, he was experiencing some bullying, he liked fantasy) and which books might appeal: WONDER? THE GOLDEN COMPASS? I hope it was helpful. The customer didn’t know me, nor did she know the sales clerk. But from our brief conversation I imagine she got a bit of “personality context” to judge whether our recommendations made sense, beyond what she could have gotten from reading the titles in brief posts on the internet.
Then I shopped for my son, and found some Tin-Tin books (later he would grab one and climb the stairs to his grandparents’ cozy room to read one, and would not even make it beyond the top of the stairs where he settled, book open, to read the entire thing uninterrupted!)
For myself I found a mystery whose title and author I would never have remembered, but when I saw it I said, “Yes! I’ve been meaning to read that!” (I’m sorry, Watchung Booksellers, I felt a little guilty buying at another store, but at least it was another Indie…?) My husband stumbled onto a book that explored the slave-owning history of a local family of which I was not aware. And there were a couple more “finds” that actually, at this moment I cannot recall, but will be happily surprised by when I look into the BookHampton bag when I get home.
Now, I feel a little self-conscious writing such a baldly old-fashioned paean to the physical book store experience. But honestly, as a consumer, I just can’t capture that same thing virtually. I OFTEN don’t remember the title or author of the book I heard someone raving about the week before, or of which I read a review three weeks ago. Handling the physical book reminds me. And inspires me to buy. I also, OFTEN, find posted consumer reviews lacking in context, and just plain insufficient to convince me to buy a book. Plus…I don’t know…I just like to SHOP in bookstores. Would our time waiting for the movie have been as much fun if we sat in Starbucks, each of us scrolling through our tablets?
I worry that these feelings and opinions of mine are like particles of dust in a cloud stirred up by a roaring truck that sped by two minutes ago. But I also worry that folks don’t know how urgent it is that they support their local physical store if they themselves want to preserve this same shopping experience. Yes, some are holding on, thank goodness. But it is a battle, every day. (It’s kind of like voting, in some ways. I know so many people who have the same political points of view that I might have, and yet who don’t get out there to vote because they assume their town, or their state, or the country will vote overwhelmingly one way or the other and render their vote insignificant. It’s true that one vote may be insignificant. But those votes add up. Sometimes to a landslide.)
So here I am, being a little sentimental about bookstores today, before I turn to work on a novel that may or may not ever have a shelf to sit on.