I’ve had a lifelong love of bookstores. Yesterday I had a small epiphany and realized that this love is still there, but it has changed… What triggered the thoughts about bookstores was sitting at a table chatting with passers-by about my books. I had paper copies of them arranged on the table in front of me, and I did sell one (and was delighted to do that, this is a very small con, I wasn’t expecting any). But I handed several people the postcard which will lead them through a link or qr code to my ebook versions of those stories.
I read almost exclusively in ebook these days. It’s simply more convenient for me to carry an ebook – ok, dozens of them, with access to hundreds more – on my phone or tablet as I rush around to school or work or… My husband and I sat at a restaurant over lunch yesterday, reading. He had his Kindle, I had my phone. We were too tired to chat much, so we held hands across the table and read quietly before returning to the con and our public faces. It was a refreshing interlude, and I had to wonder what the waitstaff thought of us, ignoring one another for our devices. We were very connected, just not conventionally.
I’ve all but stopped buying in paper – we’re living in a small house, we’ll be moving Very Soon Now, and I’ve developed a dust allergy that leaves me rashy everytime I handle or dust the books. Cleaning the library has become an interesting chore involving long sleeves, dust mask, and prompt shower when I’m done. I heard this yesterday several times, at my signing and in later conversations. Paper books take up space, and for the avid reader you eventually get to the point where you have to choose death by pressing in a pile of books, or disposing of some of them – a painful process for most of us who love to read. Ebooks let you hoard books in peace, knowing they aren’t taking up space and no one will scold you and shame you for cluttering up your house with books, bookshelves, and piles of books. I’m not saying ebooks are the perfect solution – if you don’t back them up, they can get lost or corrupted. Ebook distributors have yet to come up with an easy way to keep your digital library organized (this one really bothers me).
All this, and I am still drawn to bookstores. Not the slick, shiny new ones that are half-full of kitschy gifts. I can find quirky gifts elsewhere for less money and better selection (coff*etsy*coff). No, the ones that act on me with the gravity of a distant black hole are the used bookstores, the ones full of that smell you can find nowhere else, with shelves groaning under the weight of the paper and leather stacks. Here in Ohio I’ve found one: Bonnet’s, in Dayton. In New Hampshire there are a bare handful. Fingers, no thumb, for counting purposes. I plan to visit one this coming week, in fact, although I probably won’t buy books for myself. Books for the children, oh yes.
Perhaps… if I find a pulp cover that appeals to me, or an art book, or… oh, who am I kidding. I’ll come home (I’m driving, no weight penalties) with a book or three. Which reminds me to update the L’Amour list before I leave home. We’re still working on acquiring all his works, and the ebook prices are silly, when the First Reader doesn’t mind the paperbacks he can slip in a pocket. I’m digressing… this is the reason I still love bookstores. I can find there something the ebooks don’t give me: the feeling of being surrounded by books. It’s not about reading all the books. I can’t possibly read all the books, and I don’t want to anymore.
When I was young, I was limited in books. We couldn’t afford to buy many new, and there wasn’t a close bookstore during the Alaska years. I had local libraries, which fed my growing brain, but there was something about owning it, knowing you could read it anytime you wanted… Even then, I knew some books were read-once, and forget. But field guides, and certain books I wanted to read over and over. Those I wanted to have on my shelves. But bookshelves are a topic for another day. Maybe tomorrow.