“When people come into our 39,000-volume-strong shop, their breathing changes. Their expressions soften, steps slow, eyes stop darting. Hands unclench from cell phones as they mutter, ‘Call you later.’
And then they just stand there, letting their eyes drift over the shelves while that indefinable bookshop magic does its work.
Bibliophile Wendy Welch writes in her HuffPost article, “The Importance of Local Bookshops.” It’s refreshing to hear the familiar yet wondrous feeling of entering a house of books described from the bookseller’s perspective. They watch us enter their world of bowing wooden shelves and walls lined with stories and information, and they quietly welcome us in a way that adds to the peace instead of interrupting it.
Once relaxed, we bookshops visitors are primed for curiosity. After the bell tied to the door handle has ceased jingling, there’s a comfortable quiet. We become both sure of ourselves and unaware of ourselves. Light slants in diagonally from the front and rear windows and illuminates small floating bits of dust. We rarely notice or care about the way dust moves in light, but in a bookstore there’s time for even this. Books’ sensible, rectangular form helps them look orderly, even when stuffed along shelves; we peruse them freely, allowing our curiosity to determine our steps.
Handwritten or typed labels guide the way: Mystery, Non-Fiction, Biographies, Classics, Historical Fiction, Romance, Sci-Fi, Short Stories. Like children, we think of nothing but what might interest us. We scan titles, looking for things we know heaps about, something about, or nothing about. If a certain spine sparks our interest, the book moves to the next test: A front cover judgment (as we blatantly ignore the old adage).
We find one book we’re vaguely familiar with, another we like the color scheme of, and that one our cousin was telling us about last Thanksgiving, but after reading their descriptions on the back, pulling out our phones to read online reviews, doing a totally useless flutter through the pages, or noting the tables of contents, we think we could go without reading these three.
Then, placed on the fourth shelf of our favorite section, an unassuming paperback catches our eye. ‘Oh, I’ve actually really been meaning to read this one!’ we think as we unearth it and launch directly into the first chapter. Several sentences in, the main character and their setting have been revealed. Their world is terribly wonderful, wonderfully average, or terrible—and we’ve been sucked into it.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
Who is Katniss and why is ‘reaping day’ surrounded by nervousness?
What will bring my business from ‘Good to Great’?
Will the old fishermen in Gulf Stream break his eighty-four day streak of no catches?
Then suddenly, our attention is jolted by our phone’s vibration, another person entering the store, or the bookseller’s offer to ‘help you find something.’ We’re catapulted out of the 1850’s, or District 12, or the Stanford business professor’s mind, or coast of Cuba, and brought back to where we stand in a charming, dusty store, on an afternoon, with other errands to run.
We haven’t the foggiest idea how much time has passed, as we were just operating in our protagonist’s world instead of our own, but the light now streams into the bookshop at a more obtuse angle…
We decide between purchasing our next adventure or replacing it on the shelf. (And the book either nestles back in with its paper neighbors and reclaims its inch of shelf space or is secretly ebullient in the hands of its new owner, who paces towards the cashier.) Assuming the book made us think of or feel something provoking or enjoyable, we’ll exchange one kind of paper for another and the thing will be ours to read and reread whenever we’d like.
The bell rings again as we exit the bookshops and then walk down the sidewalk, with one foot in our world and the other still in the story.
So, we have to ask, when’s the last time you lost time in your favorite bookshops or library?
“We haven’t the foggiest idea how much time has passed, as we were just operating in our protagonist’s world instead of our own, but the light now streams into the bookshop at a more obtuse angle…”