I’ve always loved going to the bookstore, even more than going to the library. As a kid in middle school, my mom would leave me at Encore Books in Chester, N.J. while she went grocery shopping in the nearby Shoprite. I’d happily sit on the floor, browsing my way through the science fiction and humor racks (looking for Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asmiov, Jim Davis and Berkley Breathed). Then I’d dig out my allowance money, buy the book I’d settled on, and headed over to the grocery store, where I’d meet up with my mom. I’d spend the rest of the shopping expedition struggling to push the shopping cart and read my book.
Sure, the library was fun too, and I have plenty of pleasant memories sitting on the floor of the Mount Olive Public Library digging through their racks, finding gems I’d want to check out, and then stacking them high on the library desk, hoping I’d remembered to bring my card (and hadn’t run it through the wash yet again). The big difference though, was this — at the bookstore, I got to keep the books I bought. What can I say; even then I was a fledgling capitalist.
Now I’m 32, and trips to the bookstore are even more enjoyable than they were as a kid, probably because they are far more rare. As parents, Sue and I have a lot of other commitments — get-togethers with friends, family visits, home & car repair, and well, the list goes on an on. Occasionally though, we do get a break from the chaos, and on those rare occasions, we usually go on dates to the bookstore … or more accurately, the bookstores.
First we hit Barnes & Noble, primarily because they’ve got the best coffee. We’ll browse the racks, find a few books and magazines we’re interested in, and then meet back up at the coffee counter, where Sue gets her mocha and I get my cappuccino. We happily sit there for an hour or more, sipping coffee, nibbling on brownies and cookies, and generally just enjoying the surroundings. After that, we buy whatever books made the cut, and then we head over to Borders, which usually has a much better selection of books (as well as music and DVDs).
There we snag a bunch more books, and hang out again, either in the cafe or in between the rows of books, browsing through our would be purchases and occasionally sneaking a kiss. Then its time to head back home (or to the grandparent’s house to pick up the baby), our mental batteries nicely recharged.
I can safely say that our bookstore trips are among the most pleasant and relaxing experiences in my adult life. Oh sure, there’s plenty of stuff that might be more exciting or more fun, but when it comes to ways of unwinding, a trip to the bookstore is definitely one of my favorite techniques.
Now I’m sure that somewhere out there, someone is reading this and huffing to themselves, infuriated by the fact that we hit the big chain bookstores, instead of seeking out the small independent ones. To that I’ll say I never really understood the appeal of the small bookstores. The few that I’ve been in are claustrophobic, poorly organized and — most importantly — have piss-poor speculative fiction sections. Sci-fi? Fantasy? Horror? In the small bookstores that I’ve been in, they are relegated to the discount racks, if they are there at all. The sole exception to this was a store Sue and I hit two summers ago in Camden, Maine, which was a two-story job that had a respectable SF selection (and where I was able to pick up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That said, while it was a nice store … they still didn’t have coffee, and frankly, as a grown up I need more than just good books and pleasant conversation — I need my freaking coffee!
I’m sure that somewhere out there, there’s an independent bookstore that’s perfect — I imagine it as being a multi-story affair, with well-tended fireplaces suffusing the place with warmth, racks stacked with books both new and old a counter where you can pick buy freshly-brewed coffee and a few chocolate frogs, and nice, big cushy chairs that you can happily sink into. Of course, such a place probably only exists in my imagination (and maybe Diagon Ally). Until I find it, I’ll keep going to B&N and Borders. The magic may be more mundane, but it’s still a heck of a mental vacation … and they’ve got coffee.