There’s something comforting about the colder weather arriving. Days spent in front of a wood stove, curled up on the couch with a comfy blanket, immersed in a good book. Trips to the bookstore are necessary this time of year in that no matter how good the search engine on your computer or phone is, it can’t compare to browsing in a bookstore.
The Joys of Browsing a Bookstore
Browsing is an art. Walking the stacks of a local bookstore can light up your senses like nothing else. Choosing a book that you never would have discovered had you not been in a bookstore is like finding buried treasure. Your mind and spirit will thank you—I guarantee it. These days, when I go into a bookstore, I’m a normal customer, a fellow reader, a treasure hunter, without any prior knowledge of the new and noteworthy books that are stacked on the displays.
I often find myself drawn to my favorite writers, their new books proudly displayed front and center, and yet it is often the other secret ones found hidden away in the stacks that catch my attention. The ones from the smaller presses, the ones that don’t get heavily reviewed in the mainstream media. I pull it from the shelf, read the quotes on the back, open the book to the flap and begin to read the synopsis of said book.
Usually, it just takes a few sentences, perhaps a whole chapter, to see if I like the writer’s style and voice before I dive right in to make the journey together. I’d often go off some of the quotes by other notable writers I already admired and respected acknowledging the work. Most of the time, I’m not disappointed. When I was a bookstore owner, I could easily read through several novels in one week. I was constantly asked how I could possibly read so many books each week. My standard response: I don’t have a TV. Their common response: “How do you live?” “Very well,” I’d reply.
When I got into a book and became invested in a story, I’d search for downtime during my day to pick it up and read a chapter. I may read a chapter or two while I enjoyed my coffee in the morning or on my lunch break. Sometimes, when the store was slow and I’d gotten caught up with tasks, I’d sit and read—a wonderful perk of a bookseller, being allowed to read on the job! And I have to admit, if I was totally in love with a novel and couldn’t put it down, I’d read amidst all the tasks I was responsible for—a perk of a bookstore owner and being your own boss!
Before I knew it, I’d finish the book and be ready to take on the next one. We all have busy lives these days, responsibilities and pressures, jobs, and more tasks even after we end our paying job. That is when a host of other tasks begin outside of work. But I would often tell my customers that if they’d make a conscious decision to sit and open a book instead of turning on the television at the end of the day or unplugging from their devices, they would be pleasantly surprised how much time they had to read. And I could read from their faces that they knew exactly what I meant.
Time Spent Reading
Time spent reading was time well spent. Scrolling through channels or one’s phone? Not the same feeling. When I realized how much time I had wasted getting nothing done, it didn’t feel good. Whereas reading is an interactive engaging task for the mind, watching television and phone stuff is passive. There was a book that came out several years ago titled Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. She initially launched a blog called ReadAllDay.org to highlight her year of magical reading as a way “to rid myself of sorrow but a way to absorb it.”
Her memoir spoke “to the power that books can have over our daily lives.” Sankovitch champions the act of reading not as an indulgence but as a necessity. Catalyzed by the loss of her sister, (who died of cancer), Sankovitch’s soul-baring and literary-minded memoir is a chronicle of loss, hope, and redemption. Sankovitch ultimately turns to reading as therapy, and through her journey illuminates the power of books to help us reclaim our lives. Can you imagine reading a book a day for a year?
Reading as a Cure
I have suffered from bouts of depression many times in my life, struggled with loss and life’s inevitable highs and lows, and it was always books that helped me to wade through the days, weeks, or months. Books can be transports for the mind, a veritable journey through the difficulties we face, and no matter what those difficulties and struggles may entail, there is a book out there to aid as a balm for healing or deeper understanding.
When I was unable to escape my own dark thoughts in my mind, reading a novel, specifically, could open my mind to someone else’s experiences. It would be a walk in their shoes, a window into a character’s soul or mind, a teacher, or some other experience that would help me to put aside, even for a short period of time, and to forget my own despair.
I think many of us as adults forget the pleasure we experienced being immersed in a really good story. According to a Gallup poll this year, the average number of books a person reads in a year is now 12.6, down from 15.6 in 2016. And college graduates show the largest decline in the number of books read. That seems ironic to me as one would think that after graduating from college and having earned a degree, that one would go on to become a student of life. Continuing to read and educate oneself is each of our responsibilities as citizens and humans on this planet that we share.
That statistic is disheartening knowing there are so many wonderful books that are released each week into the world. So much knowledge, so many stories…One of the singular joys in life is coming to the end of a wonderful story that has come alive in your brain and been part of your days or weeks or even months of solitary time, a veritable adventure for your brain that you’ve dedicated time reading. The sense of accomplishment to have finished it and sometimes the grief of letting it go. It is a comfort to know that there is always another book on the horizon.