I buy a cup of good coffee from a cafe that isn't a chain inches away from bookshelves and talk to friends and wander through a building devoted to the printed word. I leave feeling relaxed and happy and knowing that soon I'll do it again. This is what gift-giving ought to be.
I'm old-fashioned, I admit. Many people have found more high-tech and speedy ways to dispatch their shopping efficiently. An hour or two on a computer and packages go out to their recipients, all gift-wrapped and pretty; I can't do that. It lacks the element of surprise, not for the people I'm buying gifts for, but for me.
Serendipity is a word that has almost disappeared--it's the art of finding something you want when looking for something else, and bookstores (and record stores and video stores) are centers of serendipity. I may enter with a list and leave with something I didn't know existed until a minute or two before. For me, if shopping doesn't contain the potential for discovery, it's no fun at all.
And not just during the season of gifts--I feel that way all the time. I realized last night that I need to know more about maintaining a healthy heart. Yes, I know all the information known to mankind is on the internet but I don't have the time or patience to wallow through it all, separating nonsense from useful knowledge. For me, this is time better spent in a good bookstore, looking at titles, reading a page or two, asking the person who takes care of the health section for their recommendations--and today that's exactly where I'll be. It's the difference between a living, breathing community and pixels coming together on a piece of plastic, between the world of the senses and a flat-line life that strains the eyes and the wrists.
My city is a literate one that embraces all forms of literacy, and that's a good thing. People reading on an e-reader are still reading. And I know there will always be books in a physical, tangible form for people like me--I only hope there will also always be stores where I can choose them, surrounded by a community of readers.