Much like many people penned up in their homes and attempting to behave responsibly during the pandemic, I’ve been streaming an inordinate amount of television shows and films over the past year. Such programs provide me with more than entertainment and distraction: they allow me to travel to places and enjoy experiences impossible at the moment. Simply put, stories on the screen grant me an escape.
Recently, I watched The Booksellers, a documentary on books and the rare book trade. The entire film stands a celebration of ideas, print, and physical objects. Bibliophiles swoon over books not merely because of the words and stories threaded within the pages; they yearn for the tactile assurance of holding a book in their hands or seeing it rest on their bookshelves. Books stand as the ballast for their imaginations and identities. In all likelihood, collectors of records or art have a similar need for their respective objects of veneration.
After watching The Booksellers, I found myself reflecting upon my own relationship with the printed word. All my remembered life, writing and books have captivated me. I worked in libraries for twenty years. Now, I’m a published author. Books sit in piles on my desk and on my nightstand. Overflowing bookcases dominate every living space in my wife’s and my home. During my most existential moments during this ongoing pandemic, I still can find solace in books. Books offer a sense of security in our increasingly uncertain world.
Books figure prominently in many of my most treasured memories and relationships. During college, my friend and I drove ninety-minutes to Buffalo to visit Borders, a now defunct bookstore chain, on an autumn evening. It’s impossible to describe the thrill of walking into such a place for the first time. Magazine racks were stocked with niche music, film, and literary publications. Seemingly every poetry or short story collection discussed on a public radio program could be found within the endless aisles of bookshelves. The scent of coffee beans wafted from the in-house cafe. Indie rock played in the music section. The store was filled with people looking for a book to read, an album to listen to, or place to pass a weekend night.
My friend and I spent the next several hours aimlessly browsing and talking over tea and coffee in the Borders cafe. Coming from a small and rural Catholic university, we believed that we had found a beacon of culture and a promise of a different life awaiting us. This trip to Borders marked one of our first far off-campus adventures. It all started with a longing for books.
Everyone is drawing up post-pandemic wish lists. Some look forward to big family gatherings. Some daydream about long-postponed vacations. Whenever we begin to emerge from this isolation, I want to visit a bookstore. After lingering there, I might begin to build new memories.
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