I Don’t Care For Shopping

There is this wonderful feeling when you walk into a bookstore. I have a Barnes and Noble near where I live, and that’s where I frequent when I need something new to read. On days when it’s nice out, there is actually a little cart of books sitting out front of the store. Then you open the front doors and step into the little foyer where there are two small shelves on either side of you, filled with the classics, or new releases with eye catching cover art. Then you open the main doors and the experience truly begins. There’s a wonderful soft orange light, none of the harsh florescent light bulbs like a public school library, the floor is carpeted, and there’s a little cafe in the back of the store. And the books. Of course the books. Shelf after shelf of books, it’s like a little forest of stories, and I walk among them feeling at once both like a god, with the power to absorb entire existences into myself, and also a privileged visitor into the world of the story.
I could spend hours in a bookstore. Generally I go in with a title in mind, the next book in a longer series that I’m reading usually. But if and when I find that title, I will begin to browse. And browsing in a bookstore doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing it does in another store. If I were shopping for shoes, let’s say, and I were browsing, I might pick up a shoe I like, find my size and try it on real quick like, and take it off. But with a book this isn’t possible. I must sit. I must read. I must come to know the characters enfolded in the pages. In the time it takes me to browse across ten books, I could have browsed through one hundred shoes (supposing of course that I had the patience to browse for shoes).
Matthew Stadler says in his section of “Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century” titled “The Ends of the Book: Reading, Economies, and Publics”:
Readers naturally quiet the noise of shopping. We’re distracted, which deafens us, and we fail to act. We go on reading. Beckoned to move into the spotlight and decisively exercise our taste, to consume, we instead dawdle in ambivalence, in the lingering incompleteness of the text… the clerk asks us what we’d like to buy, and we look up, half focused in the space of reading and we answer the question…” (17).
Stadler also calls shopping the opposite of reading (16).
This makes bookstores a strange mixing pot for two different cultures that maybe we didn’t really realize even existed apart, the culture of shoppers, and of readers. A place where you shop for a thing to read. You must engage in one to do the opposite.
As you may have figured out from my description of the bookstore earlier, I do really like bookstores. I love libraries for different reasons, but a bookstore is nice because I get to keep this book forever. The environment can be so pleasant.
The point of all this is to say that I think that bookstores are a vitally important piece of culture, of a reader’s culture. It’s the only place in the world where I think reading and shopping can coexist in a traditional way. There’s online shopping, where you can order books without the interaction in that space, or worse yet you can buy a digital copy online. Reading is an act of sharing, an act of being in another universe, interacting with other people, the authors through their work, and the characters as people unto themselves. It’s strange in that it’s a personal social experience, but the bookstore shares even that experience. Shopping for books online removes that. It isolates, in some ways, an experience that is meant to be social.
I think that we need to view the bookstore experience as something bordering the sacred. Treat it like a day out. Make it an occasion. Even if you just have to go buy text books. If you can avoid book shopping online, do it.
Go to a bookstore.barnes-and-noble

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3 thoughts on “I Don’t Care For Shopping

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  1. I absolutely love your description of your bookstore and I have to say, I feel the same exact way. When we read Stadler’s section about how shopping is the opposite of reading I couldn’t help but feel a little offended. Your post put into words the thoughts I couldn’t piece together. A bookstore seems to foster peer interaction while sparking interest and devotion. Online shopping seems to deter this, taking away the humanity in reading. It spurs on consumption and doesn’t allow readers as well of a way to build a relationship with a book. Bookstores are more than “shopping” it’s a place for careful consideration.

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  2. I totally understand the need to read each and every book that catches your eyes, my mom always says I can’t work at a bookstore because all my paycheck would be gone. Which is so true, there is something that just draws you into reading every book that catches your eye. I can go into Barnes and noble looking for one book and end of leaving with 5. Shopping online erases this, I think its because the price is right there in front of you, in a actually store, you don’t have to look at the price

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  3. Great description of the way a person can lose him/herself in a bookstore. You pick up on major themes of Stadler’s article while adding your own experiences. I was especially interested in the difference you note in buying books online vs. in person. In a sense, the bookstore successfully lessens the impersonal nature of shopping. Can you envision a way online book shopping/sharing might someday do that? Or do you think it really is dependent upon the physical space of sharing books?

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