Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On bookstores

I love bookstores. I always have, having been a lover of books since before I could read (which my father taught me when I was four. Books and I go way back). Bookstores not only provide me with books to take home and actually read – it’s more than that. The feeling of walking along shelves loaded with books of every kind is unique to me. I don’t even want to read all of them, but somehow that isn’t the point. Even when I lived in Japan I loved going into bookstores, looking at the books. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t read a single title (to this day I only know two Japanese signs – the one for tea and the one for the currency, yen. Handy ones to know, but it won’t let you read many books). Just holding a book in my hand, smelling it, knowing that it contained words written for others to read. Bookstores contain endless possibilities.

Thus, when I got my first job, the choice was inevitable: the local bookstore. I worked there for three years, and returned for summers for a while. Then I went on to work in another bookstore, and then a third while at university. So far all my jobs have been in bookstores. I know the business; I know how a bookstore is organized. Also, I never tire of them. I can do eight hours in my “own” shop, and then happily go on to spend another couple of hours in other bookstores as a customer. There has been many an occasion where I’ve ended up in minus at the end of the day – spending more money on books than what I earned.

I always enjoy visiting bookstores in foreign countries (not just in Japan). When I went to the UK for the first time, I ended up buying a new suitcase to bring back all the books I’d bought. Did I mention I was only there for an oval weekend..? Pretty book covers have always appealed to me – I know it’s shallow, but you’ll rarely find me even looking at a book whose cover I don’t like (and I know many others who are like me – something certain publishers ought to consider more carefully). The UK ones were heavenly – even the paperbacks are wonderfully pretty.

Therefore, when I first came to the US, I had high expectations. However, it took me a while to adjust. US stores are – different. Even the really good ones, like Barnes & Noble, which I really like interior-wise (trust me, that is important too), took me a while to feel at ease with. I expected another shopping spree, finally getting my hands on many a book that isn’t available in Norway. However, there is something about the design of American books that didn’t appeal to me at once. I couldn’t figure out what was so different, but somehow I didn’t like American bookstores.

It is safe to say that this feeling wore off. I still don’t know what caused it in the first place – perhaps it was just that the books looked different, or perhaps it was the foreign organization of the stores that had me confused for a while? Either way, I am no longer affected by it. I’ve long since lost count of how many books I’ve bought during the last three months.

This time I already have the max amount of suitcases filled. I have donated some books to friends after having finished them (the books, not the friends…), but there are still many left (books, and fortunately, friends). Thus, I’ll be shipping books home (wish I could do so with friends). It’s probably not terribly economic of me to do this – most of the books I’ve bought here I could have gotten at home too (though some of them probably not for a long time yet), and it’s not that much cheaper here (sometimes not at all). However, that is not the point.

Each and every book I buy here and take home with me (and even the ones I don’t take home with me – some of which I will replace once I have a bookshelf again), will have a special history. I will forever know that I read most of Pandora in the Congo in my (sometimes extended) lunch breaks at the archive, and that I visited five different bookstores to find it. I will look at The Gates and remember that I first discovered it in the original Borders in Ann Arbor while I was there with Tami, but that I decided not to buy it since my suitcase was full. Instead, I ended up buying it in D.C., where I mainly read it on the metro (which earned me lots of strange looks, since I couldn’t stop chuckling). Likewise, I can look at my beautiful, illustrated collector’s copy of several Mark Twain novels and novellas, and I’ll smile fondly as I remember that crazily packed store in Salem where Leanne took me when I visited her in Boston.

All these books contain stories, but in addition they (together with the bookstores I buy them in) generate stories. This is probably why I loved books even before I could read them. I was born a story-lover (and -teller, I believe).

"Shakespeare and Company" is one of the many bookstores I've visited that really captured my heart. It sits at the bank of the Seine, occupying several floors of a lovely, old Parisean building. Inside, there are books EVERYWHERE. From floor to ceiling, on tables, in hooks and nooks, on a piano (it takes a while to identify it as a piano because of all the books), over arches and under cloths and drapers. There are spaces for those who come only to read (an entire section is devoted to "borrow only"), though very little space for moving about. It's crowded, but it is well worth a visit.


Joris said...

Ah, bookstores: love 'em :)

I've never been to Paris (stayed home to read DH with/to Tone when I had the opportunity), but that shop sounds like heaven -- it also sounds quite similar (although on a somewhat larger scale) to a couple of shops I've found in Amsterdam though :)

Cruella Collett said...

The shop is heaven! Oh, and I forgot to mention - despite the fact that it is in Paris, most of the books are in English (perhaps all of them, I can't quite remember). Which makes it a lot easier accessible to me, for instance, since my poor French has been M.I.A. for years now and it's high time to accept that it's not coming back...

M.J. Nicholls said...

It's odd you mention UK book design -- the received wisdom over here is that independent US presses (such as McSweeney's) are superior to their UK counterparts.

Though firms such as the Bloomsbury Group and Canongate are exemplary when it comes to their artwork and presentation. Dreamy dreamy.

My local bookshop has its counter around a corner, meaning people can steal things and no one notices. No CCTV or mirrors. Silly booklovers.

Cruella Collett said...

No wa-ay! US presses superior to UK ones? All I know is that when I went into the first bookshop(and then all the subsequent ones) in the UK I fell in love. When I went into the first US bookstore I found myself wondering why I wasn't in the shoe shop or in the dressing room in a clothes store. Which doesn't sound like me at all!

(Silly booklovers indeed!)

Marjorie said...

Books, books, books! My favorite place to go and just chill out is Borders. There is this really fantastic Barnes & Noble in a mall across town. It's rare that I
can get to that one. *sings* I love books!

Chary Johnson said...

*steps on soapbox*

Hello, my name is Chary. I am a book-aholic. I am addicted to books. I love books and anything to do with books. Thank you.

*steps down from soapbox*

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