Post written by Monica Gaylor.
A True Story
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Barnes and Noble (Broadway) Tucson, AZ
“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” — Abraham Lincoln
I haven’t been to a bookstore in over a year. It is an oddity for me to not set foot in an actual bookstore, as I am a great lover of books. I also must admit that I haven’t read an entire book in a year. There are several reasons for this strange confluence of events, the most notable being that for 10 long months I was working. And by that I mean – working like 60 – 80 hours a week. It is admittedly my own fault and not a very minimalist thing to do. I seriously over-committed myself without forethought of what my actions would do to my life (i.e. stress, stress, no personal life, everything out of control, stress, etc.). But, that is a story for another time. I did not go to my neighborhood library for the same time period and for the same reason, but also because it was closed for remodeling. I was crushed when they told me I would have to go to a different library for nearly a year.
“But, but… I like this one. It’s like two minutes from my house. Everybody knows me.” I told the librarian. I must have sounded like I was five. Don’t mess with my rituals and routines. I was seriously bent out of shape. I tried to think positively and told myself that now I would get to go to the Main Library downtown. It would be such a treat every weekend (parking is free downtown on the weekends). And, its two-stories tall (pun not intended), imagine how many books there are to look at – I further tried to like the idea. Downtown is about 12 minutes away on a normal day, but it turned out to under construction. So the 12-minute drive became 17 or 18 minutes that were fraught with danger. Downtown is already very confusing with all those one-way streets, but add in major construction and it’s just not worth the trouble. After one trip I was turned off of the downtown experience. I probably would have continued to go in order to feed my book habit, but it turned out to be a moot point, as I was too busy working.
The summer before my over-committed 10-month contract, I purchased an iPad for myself. Actually, it was for my birthday. It was a little strange because I don’t normally buy myself anything for my birthday. I don’t even celebrate it usually. I used to buy myself a slice of either chocolate cake or cheesecake at the grocery store every year, but the past few years I haven’t even done that. My attitude, and maybe it’s because I am a single person, is one of – I’ll do, eat, and buy things when I want to. I don’t do excesses or wait for special events or rewards (I don’t even do Christmas). Instead, I buy things when I want or need them. I wait, patiently, for when it is time for the new item, or I have a craving, but I don’t run out and get things just because I can and a new version has come out. It’s not my minimalist way. I don’t think about it, it’s just a way of life. I prefer and practice the “middle path” of not over or under indulging. I have everything of what I need and nothing of what I don’t.
So, it was a little strange that I bought an iPad. The iPad (tool) changed my life in a rather major way in regards to my rituals and routines. Now that I have an iPad, I do the majority of my reading there. I have iBooks, Kindle, OverDrive, Classics2Go, and Free Books accounts, not to mention the many blogs that I follow. The most significant way that the iPad changed my habits is that it took internet and information access to a whole new level of convenience. By that I mean I was no longer shackled to the desk/table or couch with a computer. I could now read in bed with the lights off and without glasses. This was a whole new level of freedom and portability and I like/d it – a lot! (Side note: I am still currently in love with my iPad and thinking of having a ceremony.) As it turned out, it was extremely convenient for an overworked, busy, stressed out person who no longer had time to go to the bookstore or library.
My contract this year is much less demanding. Actually, it’s part-time. So, I find myself with free time and no idea on how to spend it. I am in an adjustment period – floundering if the truth be told. I haven’t been part-time in over 20 years. But luckily, I have found that old habits die hard. Maybe they just go into hibernation? I drove by my library and discovered that it had reopened. I didn’t go in I suppose because my routines had changed. They were now iPad routines.
Tablets are limited in a way that bookstores and libraries are not. I can’t watch any movie on Netflix, only the ones they have available (which do not seem to be the latest and greatest?). And I am not that anxious to buy them. I only watch them once (maybe twice) and then they become clutter. One can check out any movie from the library, no fee required and you have it for 3 weeks – so time is not a factor as it is with online rentals. Online rentals seem overpriced to me, and thus in no way appealing.
It slowly dawned on me that the library was open and now that I actually have free time I went back to my online library catalog. There were so many movies and shows that I hadn’t had time to see over the last year, not to mention books to read. It was as if I had never left. Within 40 minutes of browsing, my “Hold” list was maxed out. Within one day, I already had arrivals at my new-old library awaiting my pickup. It was very exciting to see the new and expanded library. For an hour, at least, I browsed the books, movies, and CDs. I left with 11 items – 5 books and 6 movies. (The first season of Homeland is awesome. – I didn’t even have to “hold” it, it was just sitting on the shelf.) Some of those movies I won’t even get to – but who cares, they’re there for if I have time. I am reading all of the books, as they all turned out to be page-turners.
One of my all-time favorite things to do in life is going to bookstores (my neighborhood Barnes and Noble) and just sitting in the Starbucks Café browsing a selection of books. Before my minimalist/library days, I would buy books to feed my habit regularly – I shudder now to think of it. I love the look and smell of new books (old books too). I love walking up and down the aisles of my favorite categories, pulling out the occasional book with the interesting title or cover and strumming through it. You can’t do that on an iPad, or any computing device for that matter – at least not in a realistic, convenient way. It’s really hard for me to tell if I want to buy the book or not based on the little blurb. I need more.
Admittedly, my bookstore adventures became less when 5 or 6 or 8(??) years ago I discovered the library. Of course, I knew about libraries, but had never thought of them beyond a research tool. Like everyone else of the time, I just bought my media. Somewhere along the way I discovered that they have everything one could want and need and a love affair was born. My bookstore outings became even less when I discovered the online library catalog and the “Hold/deliver” option, but I still frequented them just because I love them and it’s a way to get out of the house. There is always an adventure to be had in a place with books and coffee and more often than not, I bought something (addictions are hard to curtail). The bookstore was an important place – I, even as an introvert, was comfortable and welcome. Whether I bought books or not, whether I bought a coffee or not, no one said a word and everyone was polite. In all fairness, over the many years, I paid for my time there (thousands of dollars probably).
A friend of mine moved back to town. We used to go to lunch often and sometimes afterwards we went to the bookstore. It’s conveniently located right next to our favorite / habitual restaurant (Chili’s – feel free to send coupons my way Chili’s – just sayin’). I am excited that she has moved back and we have continued our lunching tradition. I suggested that we should go to the bookstore after lunch, as I struggle to find ways in which to live my life again beyond working, and she agreed. We went off to our individual sections of interest and met back in the Café. We had only been there for 15 minutes or so when an employee came over with a menu and told us that paying customers were in need of tables and if we wanted to stay we would need to order something. There were many people in the Café and it was almost full. Two or three tables remained unoccupied and no one was in line to get a beverage or snack. We truly were offended. I toyed with buying something just to appease the book gods, but I don’t really do sweet snacks that often. I really didn’t want anything. I would have ordered a sugary, caffeinated drink except I had to give those up for a recent health issue.
So, there we found ourselves feeling a bit unwelcome and a bit offended. Maybe the rules of the game changed while I was away? We tried to relocate ourselves to the magazine area. If I recall correctly, it used to have many comfortable couches and chairs, but upon our arrival we saw 4 or 5 wooden chairs. They did not look comfortable and they were all in use. We sat on the floor for a time, we are both teachers and accustom to this activity, but my experience had soured. I could not resurrect the old bookstore feelings after being booted out of the Café.
I was under the impression that bookstores were struggling to survive in the new digital world. Clearly I am mistaken. Personally, I bought 5 ebooks in the last year (are you paying attention – no, I did not have time to read them) and 0 paper books. If bookstores can afford to be so shortsighted and undesirable places to go – I do not see, for myself at least, the trend changing. There are just too many other options now days and I didn’t even get into the wonders of online shopping from the convenience of your own couch with a coffee maker and refrigerator 10 feet away.