Browsing the Shelves

This has been a slow couple of days for me in terms of creativity. We didn’t go anywhere for Thanksgiving and dinner was pretty much an open the box or bag and dump it in kind of meal. I wasn’t really feeling the inspiration. Then my husband ended up getting sick. My son didn’t feel good the next day, so I threw out our Turkey leftovers thinking it could be the possible culprit. Yesterday, I found out that there is a stomach bug going around the county, so maybe not a fowl culprit after all. Though I still wasn’t feeling the spirit to get much done. I did my shopping online as part of early-bird sales for cardholders for two stores. My son needed new sneakers, so we did brave one store during the late mornings on Thursday. The lines were still pretty long even at 11am.

Shopping this year has had me thinking about what shopping used to be like, not just for Black Friday, but in general. Where I live now does not have a major chain bookstore. We have a small independent shop that has some new books, but mostly they are used books. Today, I received a newsletter email from a learning professional discussing his recent trip to a bookstore in NYC. It was one of those brick and mortar stores that Amazon has been opening in major cities. The books on the shelf are determined by the popular items sold in the online store and then a group of very similar curated titles that the algorithm thinks the reader might also be interested in. Pretty cool idea, but it had me thinking back to bookstores when I was a kid.

When I was much much younger, it used to be a thrill to take my allowance, then later my paycheck, to the bookstore at the two malls I frequented: Waldens and Barnes & Noble. As a teenager, the only reason I went to malls was either for the movies or for the bookstore. Many times it was both. I could usually convince my dad to go with me to the movies if it included a stop at the bookstore. He was my partner in crime and would usually give extra money for books.

While the bookstores of my youth were chain bookstores, they held just as much magic for me as the independent stores that people still mourn today. So many choices and so many worlds to explore. My go-to sections were always the Historical Romances and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy sections. I never left the store without at least four paperbacks in hand. Many of my favorite authors were discovered through browsing the shelves for hours before I decided how my money would be spent that day. There were no smartphones to allow for “showrooming” by adding books to a virtual cart for purchase later (or at a cheaper price) while browsing a physical space. If I really wanted something, I had to get it there. One of my favorite authors today is Tamora Pierce and I happened on her books by chance because one had been misshelved and I saw it while looking for something else.

I have several booklists now of to-be-read items both on Amazon and through my local library’s website, but browsing through a virtual list is not the same as browsing the physical shelves. It is not the same at the used bookstores or the library either because while there are plenty of treasures, these are not always new books. Plus, today we read reviews from other readers or blog posts before we purchase. There are even media campaigns against certain authors even before their books are published. Our choices are shaped by the input of others. Our discovery has been hampered by the information available to us.

I think this year, I might take my son to one of the malls a couple of hours away just so he can browse the shelves at the bookstore and find a treasure of his own. No starred reviews, no comments from teachers about what is on his reading level, no feedback from strangers about why no one should read the book or why everyone should read the book. Just discovery and enjoyment.

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