This past weekend I visited my sister in Virginia, where I spent two very short days playing with my nieces and nephew, cooking, eating and watching TV. Over the years of visiting and an increasing child to adult ratio, I’ve learned to stop packing multiple books (I was an optimistic youngster). Now I just bring some stories or a Ray LaMontagne playlist for the short plane ride there and back. This past weekend, in my TV-induced withdrawals from my daily dose of literature, I was caught vulnerable by multiple Nook color commercials. In one fell swoop I caved and decided I want a Nook. I began daydreaming about all of the literary mags I could read, the diminishing piles of papers and folded magazines on my floor and on my bookshelves. No longer would I be a potential candidate for Hoarders!
It was this unexpected dive into sudden want for an electronic device I have so adamantly declared I would never need that caused a bit of introspection. And this morning, I was reminded that I do still, and will always, save the biggest part of my heart for bookstores.
Yesterday over at the Ploughshares blog, Greg Schutz mused about the importance of physical bookstores. Schutz describes a universal bookstore experience by describing why he loves the John K. King bookstore in Detroit:
After stuffing myself with the best barbeque brisket in the upper Midwest, I love to wander the John K. King stacks, four sprawling stories of floor-to-ceiling shelves located in a former glove factory–drafty and cold, lit by sputtering fluorescents and flyspecked windows, the air thick with the stale cinnamon scent of old books. Thousands and thousands of old books.
Guh, heaven, right? It’s true. Whether I’m in the used or new section of Harvard Bookstore, I experience a feeling increasingly unfamiliar in the age of immediacy, a feeling that I have nowhere to be except where I am. When you enter the store, there are signs asking to refrain from cell phone use, but I instinctively silence and ignore my phone when I’m there. It’s the Narnia, the Looking Glass, the Hogwarts of the real world.
I’ve discovered David Means, Lydia Davis, A Public Space there, and I bought my favorite collection of stories because I simply had to share it with someone else. Schutz holds a similar reverence for bookstores:
Part of the power of bookstores comes from their lack of indexing, their inability to precisely target consumers with particular products. When gathered together, physical books–paper, ink, and glue, piled one atop the other or lined in row after row–can enrich our intellectual and emotional lives in ways that we could not possibly anticipate. To be able to wander in directions more aimless than rigid paths of hyperlinks can provide is a power both vital and endangered.
So while I celebrate the opening of my mind to new technologies and the possibilities they open up for literature, I will fight to the death for the survival of the ever-reigning experience of a bookstore.
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