An Ode to Books and Browsing

AP-avatar Browsing-3Cara/Andrea here, grumbling a little about change.

Browsing-7Now don’t get me wrong—I’m a big believer in change . . . as in change is a Good Thing. Change is, after all, an organic part of growth, both physical and intellectual. It can challenge us, delight us, surprise us . . . and yes, it can often frustrate us too. As in many aspects of life, the key is balance. It’s often a fine line between clinging to the past and embracing the future.

Browsing-2Now, you are probably wondering where I’m going with this. Well, it’s a prologue of sorts. A setting of the scene, if you will, since we’re going to be talking about books. And the scene finds me walking up Madison Avenue in New York City, on my way to meet a friend at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the visiting exhibit on Renaissance Portraits. I was doing my usual City Stride—a fast-paced gait designed to go from here to there without any wasted effort. (New Yorkers will know what I mean.) However, as I was cruising up the west side of the avenue, I stopped in my tracks between 81st and 82nd Street, my gaze snared by a certain shop window. No, it wasn’t a chic little black dress or antique jewels that caught my eye (though I wouldn’t mind strolling into Antiquarium, a wondrous store located a few blocks south, and buying a few baubles.)

Browsing-1It was a bookstore—an independent bookstore that has been a landmark in the area for years. Crawford & Doyle offers an eclectic mix of bestsellers and more esoteric titles chosen by the knowledgeable book-loving staff, as well as signed first editions, mostly by 20th century literary luminaries. Every time I’m in the area, I spend a goodly amount of time dawdling on the sidewalk studying the displays.

Book, books, books! Shops like Crawford & Doyle remind me of how important browsing is to an avid reader. Oh, look! City of Fortune—I hadn’t known about that book on the history of Venice. It looks fascinating. Scribble, scribble. The title and author get written down on a scrap of paper. Hmmm, the book on the Stuarts looks intriguing too. As for Catherine the Great, it's already at the top of my TBR list.

Browsing-6And then there are the signed first editions of Tom Wolfe and J. D. Salinger. Ah, well, a girl can dream. C&D also displays children’s books, and a wonderful assortment of visual volumes—gardens, graphic design, theatre arts, country homes. All works that inspire the imagination.

Browsing-5(Thankfully in New York City there are still a number of quirky independent bookstores offering more than the standard array of recently released bestsellers—I kept my eye open on the way home and snapped a few shots, which you see here.)

I’ve discovered some of my now-favorite authors by walking through my local brick-and-mortar bookstore (now, alas, closed) and perusing Browsing-4the tables heaped with “New Fiction” or “New History.” Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but there’s something in the tactile experience of picking up a book, studying the cover, flipping the pages, reading the back blurb that creates a connection between me and the story . . . sometimes it’s that odd tingle that takes hold of the fingertips. Buy me—you won’t regret it.

Browsing-8 As I said, I believe in embracing change. I have a Kindle and find it very useful for travel and train rides. I shop online for books. But the magic isn’t there. It’s more a straightforward shopping experience—like buying kitchen cleaners or light bulbs—and works best when I know exactly what I want. Browsing is frustrating online. Hey, I don’t KNOW what I want! I want to be seduced by the look and the feel of a book. I want its blurb to whisper to me . . . I’m the one.

Browsing-9I miss my bricks and mortar bookstores and fervantly hope that they will make a come-back.

What about you? Are you like me and love the physical experience of browsing for books in a real store? Do you still have one close by to visit? Or do you find the buying of books online works just fine?