Chocolate isn’t supposed to make you sad. Usually the kitschy inspirational messages on Dove wrappers bring me a pleasantly contemptuous chuckle (except the one that reads “Be more loquacious. Start by learning the word ‘loquacious’.” Really, Dove? Making assumptions about the extent of my vocabulary? Your place is to indulge me, not insult me). But tonight’s foil fortune was more bittersweet than the chocolate it contained: it advised me to “Actually visit a bookstore.”
From twee Oprah-isms to daggers in my heart. How did they know I’d been thinking about bookstores only hours before? I’d been responding to an interview for one of Blue Karma’s recent awards; the question asked which books I’d enjoyed recently and would recommend to readers. As I pondered, it occurred to me that nearly all the books I’ve read this year have been on recommendations. My Laddie, my dad, and the occasional magazine book review are my main sources for titles these days. The decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores, I realized in horror, has correlated with homogenization of my reading material.
Most bibliophiles lament the loss of the bookstore experience: the scent of coffee and virgin paper, losing oneself in the gleaming rows of spines. I’m no exception. Bookstore excursions were regular events in my household, so my affection for them is inextricably linked to fond family memories. But that’s not what I miss the most. I miss the exploration. Walking into a bookstore is a journey into the unknown every time. What displayed cover will lure me to pick it up? What unusual title will prompt me to ease a book from the shelf? A detour down a seldom visited aisle might yield a hidden treasure. Don’t even get me started on the thrill of poking through sale bins! The point is, bookstores lets us encounter things we might otherwise never read. It’s an opportunity to discover something new, both in the pages and in ourselves. Browsing the “more like this” links on Amazon just isn’t as satisfying.
I would love to “actually go to a bookstore”. But right now, I wouldn’t even know where to find one. At summer’s end, I stopped by our favorite neighborhood used bookshop. Towering shelves and precarious stacks were gone. The store had closed quietly, like a weary crone expiring in her sleep. I stood in the middle of a busy mall and stared at the storefront’s dim, empty husk. With that business gone, I don’t even know where to find the nearest bookstore. There’s not one along our usual errand routes. Is this it, then? Extinction? Bookstores gone the way of the dodo, the thylacine, and Blockbuster Video? Sighing about it won’t resurrect them. But I still keep my Borders card in a drawer, a nostalgic souvenir of more adventurous days.