From "Writer's Block: The End of Bookstores" (The New Republic, March 24, 2011):
After all, what good does this access do if we can only find our way back to ourselves, the same selves, the same interests, the same beliefs over and over? Is what we really want to be solidified, or changed? If solidified, then the Internet is well-designed for that need. But, if we wish to be changed, to be challenged and undone, then we need a means of placing ourselves in the path of an accident. For this reason, the plenitude may narrow the mind. Amazon may curate the world for you, but only by sifting through your interests and delivering back to you variations on your well-rehearsed themes: Yes, I do love Handke! Yes, I had been meaning to read that obscure play by Thomas Bernhard! A bookstore, by contrast, asks you to scan the shelves on your way to looking for the thing you had in mind. You go in meaning to buy Hemingway, but you end up with Homer instead. What you think you like or want is not always what you need. A bookstore search inspires serendipity and surprise.
My thoughts totally. Megs and I were in just such a bookstore last week. Looking for some books for Cate’s birthday we (well, okay she) fortuitously stumbled upon a charming book* for Cate that we absolutely love. And we would have never have found it had we not been willing to look past the obvious and peruse other shelves. Found it by total accident. Delightful.
We whispered excitedly our good fortune as we turned through the pages together. And suddenly that instant became one of those ‘moments'. Where life drops into your lap a total unexpected surprise, a little treat. Made even better by sharing it with someone you love. Right there in Barnes & Noble.
Those stumbled upon joy times, the good things that happen when you were on the way looking for something else, there is nothing like them. Even better when they involve books.
*A Princess Primer: A fairy godmother's guide to being a princess.