7.14 The Bookstore

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the bookstore was the smell. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in a bookstore that wasn’t a Chapters or Indigo. The last few visits to those stores were bathroom breaks or to get a coffee.

The smell brought me back to remembering how much I used to enjoy walking around bookstores and seeing what popped out at me. I have no nostalgia for the printed book, I think that ship has sailed. I used to have tremendous pride in my book collection, but after moving them several times and ending up living in a place that has limited space, I whittled my books down by half.

When I’ve tried to do this before, I’d pick up a book, read the back and return it to the shelf with fond memories. Sure, most of them I’d never thought of since finishing them, but there is a sense memory with books. Some come into your life at the right time, serve their purpose and are forgotten. Maybe not forgotten, but somewhat integrated into your psyche, and become a part of who you are as a person.

Before I discovered Toronto’s vast library system and started reading books via mobile devices, I could spend hours wandering the aisles of a used bookstore. Sometimes I left empty-handed, most times I left with a few more books to add to my shelves. With an ex-girlfriend of mine, we used to setup ‘adventure days’ where we’d take the other person on a series of new experiences. One of mine was taking her to a used bookstore and through the authors that had an impact on my life. At the end, she was to find a book of her own that stood out to her. This ended in a fight as she interpreted this as me thinking she needed to read more, which was not the case at all.

I have to be honest and say that it pains me that I’m just not reading for pleasure as much as I used to. This is something I’d like to get better at. It is incredibly exciting to be walking around a bookstore, for a book to jump out at you from an author you’ve never heard of, take that book home, crack it open and for the words just come alive. It’s like discovery a treasure. It definitely beats ordering a book through Amazon and having them send it to me. That book from Amazon didn’t jump out at me, it’s something I bought because I liked the author and probably know I will like it. There’s a few steps missing when you buy an ebook and it immediately appears on your phone.

In the past, I’ve written and talked a lot about how it doesn’t matter what the delivery system is, that a book is about what’s inside between the covers. I still believe this, but why can’t we appreciate the discovery element of bookstores and the immediacy of ebooks? Again, I don’t think I’m a luddite when it comes to books, more the experience that surrounds them.

I found myself in that bookstore with a friend. We had lunch and he suggested stopping by his favourite bookstore. We both just walked around, taking the odd book from the shelf, showing each other what we had found. Talking about different authors and books. We each settled on something, made our purchases and sat down for a coffee. We discussed the books we bought, which prompted a conversation about why these particular ones jumped out at us. It was an experience and discussion that just doesn’t happen through Amazon. When I got home and opened the book, it smelled like the store. I had brought a little piece of it with me.

Paul Dore