‘They have never been in a bookstore before. They have no clue how to find a book here, and wouldn’t think to have a look around. They simply come to the counter with the title they need, and expect us to get it for them.’ She sighs defeated as she says it.
I’m at my favorite nearby bookstore. Not that I’m in need of new books specifically, I am currently deep in the middle of one with at least fifteen others waiting to be read or finished. But bookstores are my happy place. Not all of them, surely, but many. There is nothing as relaxing and exciting at the same time as browsing the rows of books, title by title. Many I have seen before, but there are new ones each time. And always there are one or two that speak out to me at that specific moment, which will probably come home with me.
And now I hear the owner of the store telling an acquaintance that for the past months she’s seen the first generation of students that have no clue how to behave in a bookstore. They buy things online, and only come to the brick-and-mortar store because they need a particular book for class tomorrow and have been told it’s in stock.
I am appalled, and think back to the time when my parents couldn’t afford to buy us books all the time, but we got to choose one each year for children’s book week. It was a special occasion that I anticipated by visiting the shop many times over, carefully trying to decide which book was most deserving of a spot in my bookcase. My final picks were always ones that I would really like to own, to leaf through them whenever I wanted.
We had library cards, and I visited our local library at least once a week to stack up on new books or lend old favorites once more. It was a five floor building stacked with racks and racks of endless rows of books, and it felt like the world was there to discover. The world was there to discover. I solved crimes on the Orient Express, and was a Western spy at the end of the Cold War era. I learned to track from an Indian an his cowboy friend, and traveled even further back in time to the Hundred Years’ War in France, to fight the Plantagenets and their claim to the French throne. I saw future worlds, and fantasy ones. It was magic.
If after my death my body is dissected, they will find stories flowing from my veins once they cut them, and words written into the code of my DNA. I am a specific type of story nut. But stories are an essential part of the fabric of every society. We tell children fairy tales to teach them about good and bad. History is passed on through stories. They comprise anything from books, to movies, songs, plays, documentaries, interviews, podcasts, oral texts, and much, much more. They are everywhere, and they enable us to see things in perspective, and to understand someone else’s point of view – or at least see where they are coming from.
Stories – like travel – have the ability to make us better people. But in order to get the best out of them, you have to take a leap. Sure, read the other twenty-seven books in the series of that vampire novel you enjoyed so much – I love the room for detail in a series, how full it allows its world to be. But then also take time to read something totally unlike it. And yes, do watch all Marvel superhero flicks. Watch them again to prepare for the latest installment if you must, but after that check out a documentary, Indie film or non-English spoken movie too.
Shake it up, get out of your rut. You’re the one that has to do it. Facebook shows you stories that are like the ones you already clicked on, Netflix suggests things similar to what you watched before. Every big online shop puts forth recommendations based on what you checked out earlier. You go to the gym to take care of an unfit body, don’t forget to deal with a narrow mind. Collect stories. And for God’s sake spend an hour at a library or bookstore, and don’t leave without something you’ve never heard of before.