I love Barnes & Noble. Like, seriously love it. I would live there if I could. They won’t let me of course, (I asked), but I would take up residence within the confines of their walls if I was permitted. Aside from the books, all the glorious books, they have Starbucks. Hello, nirvana anyone?
Since they refuse to let me set up camp, I go as often as I am able and spend as much time there as my husband will let me. If they ever stop stocking magazines, I’m in trouble.
Hoarding Collecting books is something I have to do, I’ll take them from wherever I can get them, I’m kind of a thrift store book section regular, but they don’t have Starbucks so they fall to the number two spot on my favorite places to buy books list.
I abhor social situations, but I love to be around people for the sake of watching them. A bookstore is the perfect place for me in this regard. The typical bookstore patron is there for books, not company, and I am left to myself. The thrift stores are fantastic places to observe folks as well, but sometimes they want to talk.
A lot of times they seem to want to talk actually. For the most part, the people who approach me seem to just need someone to acknowledge their existence, to know there is someone kind scanning the collectibles looking for treasure alongside them. Some days it makes me feel good, some days it annoys me, and some days it kind of creeps the hell out me. Another reason they land in the number two spot.
Not too long ago my husband wanted me to attend a social function with him. I don’t like to do that. While my first instinct was to list all the reasons I didn’t want to go and wasn’t going to go, I decided to take the opportunity to get a little something out of it. I told him it was gonna cost him. A day, maybe an entire day, at Barnes & Noble and a Venti iced coffee . . . maybe two. He agreed, as if he had a choice, right?
It was a fabulous day, as most all of my bookstore days end up being. I drank too much coffee, lost myself in my beloved books, and left with The Essential Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda, a hardbound collection of Penny Dreadfuls, which includes some of my favorites by Poe, Shelley, and Rymer, The Elements Of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth (The Inky Fool), and a story of my own to tell.
If you haven’t already guessed, I love to read. I cherish my books and my time spent with them. Reading is a pleasure I would wish everyone could be as smitten with as I am. I don’t know why, but it always shocks and surprises me when I run across people who do not value-love-adore reading. People who don’t find the joys I have found between the covers of a book, it’s even more shocking when I happen to cross paths with those people in a bookstore, as I did on this recent visit.
When we arrived I hugged my husband, (I didn’t know how long it would be till I saw him again), and headed straight for the coffee, as I always do, and then made a bee-line for the bargain books, as I always do second, stopping only long enough to make mental notes of where I would look after I’d perused the many books those kind booksellers had marked down for me.
I couldn’t help but notice a girl, maybe around fifteen or sixteen years old, eagerly grabbing books and showing them to her mother and then quickly placing them back on the shelf. With every book she put back, her eagerness as well as her smile was fading. When I got closer to them, I realized why.
With every book she pointed out, her mother said no. Not just no though, there were reasons for each denial. The girl picked up a copy of John Carter of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs and her mom said, “That sounds like some sci-fi book for boys.” and pointed to a copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as an alternative. The girl shrugged her shoulders.
The next book she showed her mother was Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Her eyes were kind of twinkly when she said, “I’ve always wanted to read this one!” Her mother rolled her eyes. She actually rolled them. “Isn’t that the same as Alice in Wonderland? That’s a kid’s book.” Obviously, she’s never read Through the Looking Glass and it seemed like her poor daughter wouldn’t be reading it either.
She motioned toward Dracula by Bram Stoker, this time there was an audible sigh to go along with the eye rolling. I felt so badly for that child. She just wanted to read. She noticed me noticing and tried to give a little, what-are-ya-gonna-do, kind of smile, I pointed to The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I could see a look of relief in her eyes as she reached for the book. Again, her enthusiasm was quashed. Her mom actually said it sounded like something that should be R rated. What the what?
The Count of Monte Cristo ? No. She will not be reading Alexandre Dumas anytime soon. She won’t be reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and she won’t be reading the Selected Poems of Robert Frost. The poor girl was done. She stopped asking, she stopped looking. She took out her phone instead. My heart kind of broke for her. Her mother then suggested she buy a journal instead, that poor, defeated little thing just said, “I don’t have any thoughts to write down.” She never even looked up from her phone.
Now there is another part to this story, another child and parent exchange which took place shortly after I rounded the corner and began checking out the books stacked neatly on round tables near the front of the store. This time, it was between a father and daughter. Dad had a stack of books in his arms, obviously a reader. It was nice to see his daughter, who looked to be around the same age as the other young girl, get excited and lunge toward a book.
I was a little perplexed when I realized it was a hefty copy of Gray’s Anatomy. The conversation went like this –
Girl – “Oh my gosh, Dad! Check this out! It’s huge! Do you think it’s got all the seasons since the beginning?
Dad – “What are you talking about?’
Girl – “This book, it’s got to have the entire show in here!”
Dad – . . .
Dad – . . .
Dad – “It’s not about the television show. It’s about science and the medical world. It’s actually a beautiful book.”
Girl – “Oh. Whatever.”
Dad – . . .
Now here it gets a little more interesting. The mom and the sad girl with no books head toward the register to pay for mom’s stack of magazines. The dad, and the girl I’m pretty sure might have been too young to actually be watching the Gray’s Anatomy television series, head toward the register as well. The two parties merge and become one; a family.
If I had to guess, and I’m going to, I would say they were a blended family still in the process of blending. The girl without any books was tall and slender with dark hair, like her father. The Gray’s Anatomy girl was shorter and a little plumper with golden hair, just like her mother. I kind of chuckled to myself thinking about the different qualities they each brought to the table and how wonderful it might be when they all really begin to meld together.
The story is almost finished. The dark-haired daughter wandered away from the checkout line to look at a display of bookends, among the books being showcased between a bust of Plato and a bust of Aristotle was a beautiful copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The girl ran her finger almost lovingly down the spine of the book, then mother appeared beside her. “You know, just because they call it a classic doesn’t mean it’s any good.”
I might agree with that statement to some small extent if it was coming from someone who had actually read many classic novels, but instead I was a bit wounded by it and imagined myself knocking some sense into her with the bust of Plato, or maybe Aristotle, both were within easy reach. Instead though, I simply said a little prayer in my heart for the new family and hoped they would find some common, literary ground to stand on one day.
Later, when I thought of them, I wished I’d grabbed up that copy of The Secret Garden and bought it as a gift for that girl . . . it sure would have made my heart smile to do such a thing.
Crystal R. Cook