Most of the great books I got were at library sales. My mom went to those like it was religion. The books were extra fun because they had that plastic cover and the labels on the spine. Occasionally they would even have the little pocket inside the cover and a stamped up card showing due dates from decades before. There were a couple of used book stores we would make it out to once in a while, but not too often. It's hard work, wrangling two overly active boys.
And then they put in a Borders about 45 minutes from our house. It was amazing. We would go and I would see books about composers and music theory. All of the glorious stuff that I wanted to know so very badly was covering the shelves. In the days before the web, I would go into a bookstore not knowing what I wanted and come out having spent any money that I had - sometimes with a little extra funding from mom when she could swing it. Or if I went with my dad, we'd drop $50 easy on books. I wonder if there's a correlation between parental guilt post-divorce and literacy in their children. Anyway... when I could drive, I would go to that place all the time. Bookstores and record stores. Every Friday night. Those were great times. My buddy and I would go check out the new CDs and music magazines at the record shop and then hit the bookstore just to see if anything by anyone we knew had come out. We'd get some greasy burgers and then head back to my mom's house to rock out until the wee hours of the morning when we would cue up some Lou Reed on the record player and pass out. Seriously. That was the high life.
In college I was always running all over the greater Cleveland area to some library or other. Lots of time was spent in bookstores and most of the "spare" money I had went to books. The thing about the library or most of the bookstores was that books would just leap off of the shelves and into my hands. Again, in those pre-web days it was an adventure. My backpack was always filled to capacity with books. Hell but it was heavy. I never left my dorm without at least 5 or 6 texts.
Even when I lived on the frozen prairie I had a bookstore that would easily swipe $50 to $100 out of each paycheck. Man, that place. They had great coffee and a selection of books that was carefully curated for smart people in exile. That's a totally different topic, but there's a reason that the Iowa workshop produces so many award winning writers. You go there to write and there's nothing else to do so you actually, ya know, write. The bookstore reflects that. So many gems. So many things that I would have had a tough time hearing about - even in the days of the web.
And now? Now I go to the B&N with my family every couple of weeks and am assaulted by the latest set of bullshit biographies or political non-analysis. Maybe a new series about vampires or zombies "But wait! There's a twist! They don't crave brains or blood! They crave MARGARITAS!" hogging the front tables. I wander the anemic music (book) section or the intellectual vacant biographies. Nothing. There's never anything. At most I buy a coffee and a chocolate milk - maybe a magazine - and we wander home.
I know that there are real bookstores left in the world. What I wouldn't give to live in Brooklyn if only to visit CRwM's wife's bookstore. I actually follow the store's blog as a form of self-flagellation. I would love to talk to a bookseller who isn't pimping Steig Larson or whatever shit is about to be made into a movie.
I miss seeing a title on a shelf and knowing that I have to read it right now. My substitute is a pile of book blogs and husi. I follow what folks read around here pretty carefully. I copy links into a file on my iPhone that gets pushed to dropbox and I can peruse it any time and snag it for my nook or whatever. It's a perfectly viable way to get what I need, but it's not the most exciting way. And I feel like that, more than eReaders or anything else, is what makes me sad about bookstores today. I want for there to be a place for that kind of thing. A physical location where the topic is set and expectations can be fulfilled. I don't think that should be weird, but in the world of the iPad and constant network connections, what can I reasonably expect?
Stacky, The Cuteness, and I went to B&N today while The Dude was out and about with the inlaws. We wandered for a few minutes. I'm off and I wanted a copy of The Paris Review. Fuck off. I have a little time to read and I like it. But it wasn't on the shelf. Nothing was on the shelf. There was nothing at all. And it was kind of sad.
But then I snuggled with The Cuteness and forgot all about it. Until now.
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