My friend Jess is a great journalist as well as a huge book fan. She wrote the following piece for my blog. Hope you enjoy!!
The 21st century bookstore is very different from what I imagine one was like 100 or even 30 years ago. Consider how far we have come from the early days of the printing press when having possession of an actual printed book was considered to be one of the greatest status symbols and privileges there was. Now, we have E-readers and book downloads that completely eliminate the need for paper books altogether. While I am all for technology I do not think my love affair with books and the bookstore will ever end.
To be clear, the 21st century bookstore should not be compared with the likes of other modern retail shops like the grocery store (practically a competitive sport from the parking lot to the shopping carts ramming you in the ankles) or even the modern dining experience (usually with plastic tablecloths and people sitting at tables on their cell phones ignoring the people they obviously agreed to dine with). The bookstore distinguishes itself because it is the only retail shopping location where I can enter and feel calm, content, and like I belong. It is the only retail shopping location where I go out of want or enjoyment rather than necessity.
The bookstore greets shoppers with the aroma of over-priced coffee and mounds of table displays piled with best sellers. While I admittedly take a few minutes to browse the best sellers and occasionally get myself a coffee, I generally head toward the back where the “die-hard” readers become visible and the “bookstore music” becomes audible. (On a side note, I have always said that if Barnes and Noble sold a soundtrack, I would probably shell out the $15.99 for it). It is in wandering through the aisles and reading the backs of books I have never heard of, where I get lost. I do not really feel like I am deep in the clutches of the epitome of consumerism, but rather, hiding away among the shelves in my own little world.
I always gain a sense of inclusion and belonging while hiding away in these back aisles. I always see those who like to literally sit on the floor or on the side of the shelves out of eagerness to read the first chapter, or those who appear to have been sitting in the strategically placed leather chairs for hours (undoubtedly having read close to an entire book for free). It is in these moments that I feel as though I am among people who enjoy a good read, just like me. I love the fact that reading is one of the few tasks a person cannot do while talking or texting on the phone. To me, this is an escape, and in the back aisles of the bookstore you will find those who are also escapists of a modern age.
There is definitely an argument for the fact that retail bookstores are set up very strategically from the books they choose to pull out of the shelves and display separately, to the over-priced coffee, right down to the unnecessary array of bookmarks, gift cards, book lights, and candies sold at the front checkout counter. Furthermore there is also a legitimate argument for the fact that books cost too much and today’s literary blockbusters are not worthy of such acclaim or sales (I’m talking to YOU Stephanie Meyer). This 21st century landscape is the only one I’ve ever known. Older people always say things aren’t the way they used to be in a negative way, but for me, the 21st century bookstore is one of the only places where I don’t feel bombarded by eager sales associates or trapped in a digital age. A person sitting and reading a paper book will always be the same as it ever was.