When I stepped into a Barnes and Noble recently, it was like coming back home. The displays, the smell of paper, the bustle of people were so familiar and so comforting, like everything was waiting on me to return. I hadn’t realized how much bookstores meant to me until I happened to visit one and felt an instance peace.
Some of the most important pastimes when I was little were going to the library and going to the bookstore. We practically lived at the library and still do. I remember standing inches below the checkout counter, watching as my mom and the librarian scanned and then date stamped our books. I remember the counter had ridges like soft vertical waves that I would run my hand across, up down, up down. The library was one wide open space filled with gray decor, natural light, and bright spots of color from book spines. I knew each area by heart and as I got older I ventured to the non-fiction section where I could look at cookbooks and magazines, bright pictures to add to my daydreams. I loved the library. I loved that it held so many books I could get for free for a short time.
The bookstore was trickier. When I got old enough I decided I should only get a book that I really loved. There was no returning it to borrow something new if I got bored with it. In the bookstore I would browse for a long time for something I would enjoy as a permanent part of my possessions. I would go into the music department, listen to clips of my favorite songs, and consider the CDs I would like to have.
But we usually didn’t buy from the bookstore. Our family often went window shopping and our favorite hang out was either Barnes and Noble or Borders depending on which mall we were at. At the bookstore there was something for everyone. Each of us could sit, read, and think. Surrounded by books, I felt content.
I’m saddened by the fact that bookstores are phasing out and the future of library service is rapidly changing. While ebooks and Internet buying are convenient, there is something beautiful about the visceral reaction to holding and sensing the materials around you. Each book is filled with a story, magazines are bursting with gossip and advice, the journals are waiting to be filled, and the bookmarks are waiting to be used. You can make your choice about buying these things from reading data on a computer screen. Or you can decide by holding the book in your hand, getting accustomed to the weight and feel, how the pages turn, how the font looks. You can buy it and immediately have it to enjoy sitting in the cushion seats of the library or the bookstore or the nearest coffee shop.
I now own a Kindle and this summer I listened to an audiobook. They’re nice, but I’m glad to be reminded of the comfort of the physicality of books and the places that house them.