Friday, October 8, 2010

An Argument for the Persistent Existence of Bookstores and Against Fear of Strangers

A couple of nights ago, a nice moment happened.

I was not in the mood for a nice moment, really. I was trying to swiftly but kindly close the Annex, doing the very unpleasant task of asking people to stop reading (something that always actually hurts me a little, even if I'm exhausted and have places to be) and there were a few stragglers, as there often are. There was a couple who had been pouring over multiple sections in search of a particular book, to no avail, and they moseyed toward the register lamenting the fact that they've had such trouble finding it as I was ringing up the last (particularly, um, healthy) stack of books of the night. The customer I was ringing up heard their conversation, and interrupted.

"I have about five copies of that book at home. It's one of my favorites, and I buy it every time I see it. If you're not in a rush I'd be happy to mail it to you."

I immediately handed over a post-it and a pen. They jotted. They offered payment, he refused. They talked about the book, how much they cherish it and how hard it is to come by. It was a book I'd never heard of, and I could tell that it was one that bonds the people who love it together because it's not a classic, not a "must read", but is nonetheless important to a few people for whatever reason (I like to hear people talk about their version of those; I have one of those).

There are, of course, so many quaint things to love about this story (Gift-giving! Real-life human interaction with strangers that is personal without being creepy! Unlikely common favorites! The mail!) but most of all it served as a nice little reminder as to the purpose of a bookstore as a space. A space can hold multiple people, it allows conversations to happen and glances at what another is reading, for listening in and reaching out. It's a function that is particularly crucial to the act of reading, I think, because, as wonderful as it is, reading can be such a solitary thing. It can get lonely. Come by the store at night sometime and stay a while, and you're bound to feel the value of having other people around for this very personal process. It's an aspect of book-buying, I think, that is crucial enough that it's hardly in danger of being replaced-- people just have to remember that in order to keep these spaces for ourselves, we have to buy books occasionally. Customers like the ones who exchanged an address the other night make me think that enough people aren't forgetting this. Maybe.

Now, because it's Friday and because as much as I want to wax nostalgic about "real books" I also don't want to wax too nostalgic about anything because, you know, it gets too serious and all waxy, I leave you with this drinking game to play while reading blogs like ours. Get a little toasted and go talk to a stranger, why don't ya.

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