By Enid Grace Parker
In the present day, do we really need to go to a store to buy what we need/want? Most of the time, we don’t. With just a couple of clicks on a computer (or a phone), your purchases will start making their way to your doorstep. No extracting the car from that precious parking spot just to head to the mall, no taking a train or bus or taxi, no banter with salespeople, no standing in queues at the checkout counter. Ah, the easy life.
I’m not averse to online shopping and do indulge… a little. But when it comes to books, I would prefer entering a real bookshop rather than a virtual one. I guess I’m an old-fashioned bibliophile. A colleague tried to interest me in buying a Kindle but I declined; somehow I couldn’t imagine myself owning one. It’s like someone from the Victorian era suddenly being entrusted with a modern technological gadget. I’d rather hold a real book.
I can rarely leave a bookstore without purchasing something, even if it’s just a bookmark or a piece of stationery. That bad habit aside, there are only pros as far as physically visiting a bookstore is concerned, according to me. Apart from the visually appealing sight of hundreds of books in one place (there is a warmth that envelops you on such occasions that only book lovers will understand), the people you encounter while on a book browsing spree can be quite interesting.
Take for example that guy/girl/group you know is there just for the heck of it, probably because it’s part of a mall and they happened to pass by. They could be kids, they could be adults, they could even fall in the elderly age bracket. They don’t particularly have any affection for the written word but enjoy taking a stroll through the store, randomly checking out shelves, sitting on benches and chatting, going through something on their phones, and ultimately when boredom becomes too much to bear, heading out to find more satisfying ways of spending their time. But hey, at least these unlikely visitors get a whiff of what it’s like to be among millions of words stretched out over centuries. Maybe someday this casual strolling will turn into something more serious. Maybe someday they will actually pick up a book and not want to put it down. Maybe someday a single word or sentence on the jacket of a novel will move or inspire them. I hope this is the case. I love it when someone who is not particularly fond of reading tells me they really enjoyed a certain book.
Then there are those people who will go through each and every section of the store with a such a fine-toothed comb that you begin to wonder, between admiring glances, if this meticulous attitude has a purpose — but when you see them wheeling a trolley (yes, a trolley) towards the checkout section, a sigh of satisfaction escapes your lips. Such people, however, could also be struck by Tsundoku, a Japanese Meiji era term for acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them. I believe I too have been guilty of this at some point. But, in my defence, I always end up finishing the books I have purchased, even if it takes me an age. So is there really any harm in adding bookshelves to your living room and making it a cosy reading nook? I think not. There are worse things to be guilty of than Tsundoku.
There are many more intriguing and even sometimes eccentric characters you come across in a bookstore and this is part of why I love walking into one.
Sometimes I look for books online but always end up buying them only at a store. You get discounts online, I’m told. True, you do. But I’d rather shell out a little more cash and physically examine what I’m buying, as well as soak in the sights and sounds of a real bookshop’s atmosphere, rather than fill up a rather joyless virtual shopping basket.
You also get rare books online, which you may never find in an actual store unless perhaps you travel the world searching, an inner voice prompts. Well, there’s no arguing with that, and I can’t make a case for bookstores in this instance. Last year, a cousin gifted me 1945 versions of two classics — Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. They were, she informed me, sold by a private seller online, a descendant of the lady who originally purchased the books. They even had inscriptions — in a stylised handwriting you know is hard to find nowadays. Needless to say, those books are two of my most precious possessions, and yes, I admit, I wouldn’t have found them in a conventional bookstore.
Yet, when I sit and reflect on how much happiness and peace of mind bookshops have brought me (I highly recommend them for de-stressing), I know I could never give up the pleasure of browsing in a real one as opposed to a virtual one.
Enid Parker frequents secondhand bookshops, loves chai and wishes she could revisit the Eighties.