I was in a bookstore last week.
That doesn’t sound like a particularly interesting fact until you know that before last week it had been about four months since I’d been in one. And maybe over a year before that.
Granted, a big part of the problem is that I live in the mountains and it’s a four hour drive to the nearest big bookstore. But even when I did live near one, my visits to bookstores have decreased a lot over the years.
Long ago, before children, we regularly visited bookstores. We’d have a cup of coffee, a handful of books on fascinating topics, and a squishy chair to sit in while we determined if any were interesting enough to buy.
Fast forward to last week. Because I’ve been out of the bookstore world for the past couple years, something strikes me every time I walk into a Barnes & Noble.
There are not nearly as many books visible as I expect.
The entire front quarter of the store is filled with shelves and tables of fascinating bookish things and a nice big cafe, but not many actual books.
Don’t get me wrong, I spent a LOT of time perusing that front section. The cool bookends. (I think my IQ would go up having this guy sitting next to my books.)
There were tiny zen gardens and tiny globes and tiny journals and tiny magnifying glasses. All of which I wanted.
There were aisles of activity books. Also not a bad thing. We bought a book of Extreme Mazes that are so detailed my 10-year-old asked to borrow my reading glasses to complete one.
The journal section is magnificent. If I bought a couple of those, I’m fairly sure my journaling would transform into works of genius. There’d be a bidding war for them after my demise.
But…but there weren’t many books.
After the four hours it took to reach the bookstore, the kids headed to the kid section and the train table and towers of stuffed animals and some big display with forest creatures who dress in clothes and live in dollhouses.
It was a cool kids section. But what I didn’t notice were books. There were shelves and shelves of them off to the right. But that part of the section wasn’t…exiting.
I went browsing around the store for a bit and it took me two u-turns to find the fantasy books. There was a huge shelf of books labeled “Fantasy/Science Fiction” that were based on video games – I’ve often thought video game writers are masters of storytelling so this is not at ALL surprising – but I couldn’t find the regular books.
Please don’t think I’m criticizing Barnes & Noble. I’m not. I was just struck by the fact that the bookstore has changed.
The real actual complaint I have is that even though I’ve barely been to a bookstore in years, I already recognized a huge percentage of the books that were on display. For instance, there was a table of children’s books near the checkout, and I think we owned every book on that table. The most prominent was Goodnight Moon.
I love Goodnight Moon. It has sent my kids off to sleep many a time with its dark green and obnoxious orangey-red room. (Side note: this made me laugh. Issues with the Room in Goodnight Moon.)
But it also sent me off to sleep as a child. And I’m no spring chicken.
There was Dr. Seuss (which I also love) and PD Eastman (more loving going on) and a dozen other books that I already own and already love. Because they’re wonderful books.
But…BUT, there’s a statistic, and I’m not sure of the exact number, but it’s something like 4 billion books have been published since you started reading this post. So, when I saw the table of children’s book, I was hoping for recommendations of new children’s books.
And it wasn’t just on the front table. Walking through different aisles, if I was familiar with the genre, the books facing forward (i.e. the only ones I noticed) were almost all by familiar authors. And most I recognized the actual book. Often because I’ve seen it in movie form.
Again, I’m not trying to criticize Barnes & Noble. I’m sure financially B&N stays afloat thanks to the bookish things section at the front and the mega bestselling books-made-into-movies.
I just felt disappointed that the things set in attention-getting places of the store were not there for me to discover new, interesting books.
I could have delved deep into the fantasy section to find a new gem, but I didn’t have that much time or energy. We had to get back in the car.
I realized that the reason I used to go to bookstores was to find new books. But the way that the bookstores I’ve been in lately are set up, this is hard to do. I’m too distracted by the magnificent journals and the yummy cafe.
Do you guys visit bookstores often? What are your thoughts on them? Have they changed or am I the crazy old woman hollering about the good old days?