Browsing bookstore like mini-vacation

By Norman Knight

Sometimes the timing is such that we can take a break, even if it is just for a few hours, from the day-to-day and treat ourselves to a small vacation.

Some people sneak away to an afternoon movie to get this sense of renewal. I totally understand that. For me, I go browsing in a bookstore.

Just the other morning, in fact, events in the routine of my everyday world aligned themselves to allow me some time to take a mini-vacation. I booked a trip to the local Barnes and Noble.

I know people who go to Florida every winter for a getaway. They stay at the same place, eat at the same restaurants and visit the same beaches. They restart and update relationships with people whom they see every time they visit. They have the comfort of familiarity as well as the surprise of changes they’ve notice since their last visit. That’s how my bookstore vacations always go, small changes among the overall sameness.

I started my vacation near the magazines, always a telling barometer of what is capturing the public interest. Lots of issues with the word “Trump” on the cover. From what I could tell, it’s either the end of the world as we know it, or it’s not so bad, or things will be fine.

Some periodicals published “special” issues. I saw three of these special magazines overlapping each other: the recently deceased singer George Micheal; the recent President Barack Obama; and the recent Nobel laureate Bob Dylan. Rock stars all.

I lingered at the table spread with cookbooks remembering when I would devour such morsels with abandon. I am more circumspect these days. Our shelves at home are loaded with favorite cookbooks. “Do I really need one more?” I ask myself. Besides, these days, if I am looking for a new way to prepare eggplant I can go on-line and find a universe of recipes.

I am not proud of that. Brick and mortar bookstores are in an economic struggle with the Internet. I love vacationing in bookstores, but I don’t always support them with my dollars. That makes me part of the problem.

I made my way through the cluttered path of current fiction and noticed the proliferation of books marketed to young adults. In addition to numerous displays of YA-themed novels, graphic novels occupy an entire wall of shelves. Numbers from Pew Research reveal that last year 80 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds read at least one book. This compares to 67 percent of people 65 and older. I’m glad to know young people aren’t giving up on the printed word.

Much of the bookstore is taken up with non-book items: music from CDs to vinyl discs, videos, toys and games. I also see lots of what I think of as near-book items: notebooks, journals, calendars, and the currently faddish coloring books. These days, to be a bookstore you have to sell more than just books.

As always on my bookstore vacations, I take a turn through the poetry section. I check to see if a favorite author has something new and scan some new, unfamiliar names. Not a lot of people browse in this section. I usually have it all to myself. The poet Billy Collins has a book entitled Sailing Alone Around the Room. That is a good description of my bookstore vacations.

Sometimes we become so habituated to the job, the errands, the chores, that we forget we are as immersed in the routine as we are the air we breathe. And sometimes we are fortunate enough to realize our situation and are able to breakaway for just a small time. For me, a bookstore, whether a chainstore or a quirky independent, is always a reason to stop, linger and get away. Besides, it’s a very cheap vacation.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.