Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Gift of Bookstores

It's the holiday madness time but I'm enjoying my shopping adventures--every week I go off to my neighborhood bookstore and choose a few more books for people I love. It's a big, bright, light-filled space filled with things I want to read and not filled with Christmas cultch--no fat men booming hohoho or plastic trees laden with gaudy baubles, emitting a vaguely toxic scent.

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.


Ebriel said...

This year a younger sibling suggested we do Kris Kringle because life gets "more complicated and expensive as we get older".

Is this the norm in the USA these days? Fine to satisfy obligations amongst friends and colleagues, but to me the joys of giving gifts are selecting something for an individual, not: "Ok I'll just budget $30 for a single gift."

Oh the tyranny of convenience: a word I grew to despise in HK.

janet brown said...

Kris Kringle? Is that slang for cash? I haven't been back long enough to know what's normal here--but that certainly isn't in my family and I'm grateful.Otherwise you might as well throw a basket of $20 bills under the tree and say "Everyone take a couple. Merry Christmas."