January 1, 2010. A new year. A new decade.
A nasty case of cabin fever and sofa stiffness led me to Barnes & Noble this afternoon, which, for some inexplicable reason, led me to come home and begin a blog. I shall try to explain.
Bookstores have always been one of my treasured escapes. Growing up in suburbia, I salivated over trips to the local library, where I would lose myself amongst the stacks and aisles. Years later, when I moved to the city and discovered The Bookstore, I reached nirvana. Real bookstores, like Brentano’s, Rizzoli, and Three Lives & Co. Crammed with my muses, heroines, and gods. The smell. The sacred hush. Worshippers no less reverent than if in a church, quietly sampling a novel or book of poems, a travel guide perhaps, gently returning the tome to its shelf. Heaven.
Hell. Or my idea of it this afternoon anyway. No longer in the city, much to my chagrin many days, I typically enter stores (or the dreaded Mall) in the early morning hours or not at all. This afternoon, New Year’s Day, I figured I would try something different. After all, who else would bother leaving all of the televised football bowls and greasy eatings to venture to a bookstore on the first day of the year? Just about the entire county population it seems.
I’ll admit I was feeling a bit unsettled from the start, having decided to browse the store without my usual “To-Read” list, “winging” it, as they say. Then the woman entering the store in front of me failed to hold the door, though I was a mere couple of inches behind her. Perhaps that was her way of telling me I should have been more than a couple of inches behind her.
Alas. Inhale. I can do this. Once inside, I was immediately assaulted by a cacophony of noise, chatter, and bustle. A mob of tiny ruffians raced around the new releases (hey, why don’t you take some quarters and beat it to the arcade at the mall?). A woman (a salesperson, no less!) in Humor shouted to her friend in Romance, “I was feeling okay until about an hour ago!” (yea, me too, lady.)
I finally made my escape to Fiction, where my reprieve lasted only a mere moment or two before being cornered by two (yes, two!) bookstore stalkers: one, a straggly-haired, ageless girl (I think) who could have been in her mid-30s or a teenager, I have no idea; another, a poodle-esque white-haired woman wrapped in a long bubbly, cream-colored coat. Do you know what I mean by “bookstore stalker”? This is the person who decides to come and stand beside you at the very moment you reach the section you’ve been aching to peruse. You move a little closer toward the person, thinking that might prompt him or her to shift position (to a different aisle altogether), but no hint is taken. So you must shake your head, mumble a derisive “Bookstore stalker!” under your breath, and skulk to a different aisle yourself until it is safe to return to the original section.
Talking, chatter, squealing, arguments. One poor schnook in Music seemed hopelessly befuddled. “Well, what is the title?” the helpful saleswoman asked. “I don’t know.” “Well, who is the singer?” she persevered. “She’s really famous.” “Do you know anything more specific about it?” she tried once more. “It came out about a year ago.” Okay. Time to leave.
And so, with an extra lap around Fiction, I grabbed my selections, made a quick drive-by through Notebooks to grab a new journal with which to begin the year, and headed to stand between the green velvet line markers. Grieving over my lost, quiet bookstores of yesteryear, I wondered when we allowed this travesty to unfold. And why. We are loud everywhere else in life. In business meetings, in the mall, in the middle of dinner, in living rooms, in classrooms. Must we also be loud in bookstores? Why do we have to yell out our business, reprimand our children, argue over tonight’s dinner menu, bark into cellphones across book-crammed aisles? I suppose the pat rebuttal to my question might be, Just be glad people are still going to bookstores!
Okay, fair enough. People are still going to bookstores. And I am too. I’m even writing about it. I will go to bookstores until my last breath leaves me. Just not in the middle of the afternoon.