Bookstores should be called book experience centers
Today I visited a bookstore after what seems like a century. When I walked out about two hours later, I felt heavy. And not merely because of the number of books I had added to my collection.
When I was browsing through this old and well-known bookstore in Bangalore, Blossom Book House, I was acutely aware of so many different thoughts and sensations.
The smell, oh, the smell
As soon as you enter a bookstore, any bookstore, you are engulfed in the smell of books.
You will be treated to as many flavors and scents as the number and variety of books. Add to that, the fact that Blossom is primarily a store for pre-loved books. Can you imagine the olfactory overload? The smell of aged books, books that have been through a life of their own, books that have absorbed parts of the places they have been in — can you imagine the cocktail of smells?
Yup — I suffer from a clear case of bibliosmia — love of the smell of books! I definitely don’t want a cure for this condition.
I spent some time surreptitiously sniffing through various aisles. I suspect I lingered longer in the romance and thriller aisles. The sweet smell of romance and the smell of a potentially thrilling find among the shelves probably kept me there for longer.
Books piled high to the ceiling
I love all bookstores. Period. But.
When you enter a swanky bookstore that stocks only new books, you see rows and rows of books neatly organized by genre. The assistants at the store know where to find the book you want, and everything is tidy and organized. Good, right? Yes, of course.
Consider the aura of a pre-loved bookstore. There is so much charm in such stores. The prospect of suddenly running into a gem on the wrong aisle, of finding the one book that has been eluding you for months — this experience is nothing short of a ride in a theme park. You come out exhilarated. Not even the store owners know if a book you want is lurking in some obscure corner. And if you happen to find it — euphoria!
I had to tear myself away from the store because I was having so much fun scanning all the titles with my neck tilted at an obscure angle. I absolutely lost track of the time.
Being the proud owner of many books
I don’t know why there should be any reason for such snobbery, but there it is!
I entered the store and spent the first five minutes pointing out various books to my husband claiming loudly that we already have those at home. Who was I trying to impress? The store owner owned the damn store with those million books. Most customers were buying a hundred books each and hauling the loot away in big bags. Clearly, anyone who enters a store like this has to be an ardent book lover. No one looked remotely impressed or even interested in my theatrics!
And yet! I could not help gushing about all the books I already owned. To see a book that I already owned displayed in the store somehow made me happy! It did not matter that I had not read even half of them.
So much to read, oh my God!
When you shop online, you see what you want, and then maybe a few.
But a bookstore with all those shelves filled with saliva-inducing titles is a wake-up call. You suddenly realize how behind you are on your reading. I walked into the store intending to do some lazy browsing, and maybe buy a book or two. As I walked through the book labyrinth, I realized just how many authors and books are out there that I have not yet consumed. Books from authors I love and books from authors I have heard so much about but have not yet read.
And the worst yet? Books I already own, that are sitting on my bookshelf, and that haven’t seen the outside of the shelf in years because I HAVE NOT TAKEN THEM OUT TO READ THEM!!
My head was spinning with these thoughts as I discovered book after book that I want to read in this lifetime!
And finally, at one point, this emotion hit me like a punch in the gut. I just published my first book about a month ago, and have been feeling pretty smug about it.
But seeing all those books in the store, knowing that so many have done this before me, and so many will continue to achieve this feat was humbling. I was particularly aware of authors who have published so many books in a single lifetime. How do they write so much? And so well? And become household names?
I am not talking about writers long gone. We are lucky to live in the same time frame as literary giants whose books line these bookshelves. Authors like Bill Bryson, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Amitav Ghosh, Sudha Murthy — and all of them churn out books faster than I can read them. How do they do that? How am I supposed to keep up?
And here I am — the gall to publish one book and assume I have arrived! I realize that I have so much to do. So much to write. No time to be wasted!
Forgive me Robert Frost for building on your famous lines, but I have to say this.