Friday, August 21, 2009

It's like he's read my mind

So, I just finished a great little book called Mishima's Sword by Christopher Ross. In addition to being a fascinating history of Japanese swordmaking, a gripping account of the life (and death) of Yukio Mishima, a whirlwind travelogue through modern Japan (complete with weird food and Yakuza) in search of the missing blade that completed Mishima's chaotic and controversial act of seppuku, Ross also hits the nail on the head when it comes to the book browsing experience.

As one who has spent decades haunting used book stores, I may feel their loss more than most. Just a handful of years ago, there were probably 20 used book stores dotting the little burgs between San Francisco and Santa Rosa - today there may be 2 or 3. Sure, you can find all the used books you will ever need on-line, but where's the fun - or danger - in that? I could say more, but let's let Christopher Ross take it from here. From Mishima's Sword:

"For a bookworm a second-hand or antiquarian book fair is an exciting event. . . The space was crammed with shelves and tables groaning with tomes and the rooms thronged with browsers. I rolled up my sleeves and set out to seek for treasure - for that, I am sure, is the motivation of the true bookworm.

After only a short while I began to feel at odds with what I was doing. I dislike browsing whenever anyone else is trying to look at the same shelf. I can scan a large bookshelf very accurately in seconds and become impatient if someone is taking too long in a slot I wish to occupy. I do not like standing too close to a stranger (martial arts training focuses on maintaining a safe distance at all times, a practice known as ma-ai) and become indignant if anyone indicates that they resent the way I am behaving, perhaps by trying to block my browsing or in some other way behaving proprietorially towards the books we are both looking at. It is a very mild form of intolerance, even of violence. I sometimes fantasise doing something very nasty to an innocuous bibliophile who is, mercifully, unaware of my growing sense of browser rage."
Anyone else remember feeling that way?

1 comment:

The Inkwell Bookstore said...

Indeed! (Although nowadays, my "browser rage" is more a me vs. Google thing.)