When I heard that the Book Warehouse was closing its doors, it hit me that as a reader and a writer (the latter of which I am calling myself freely now) I will have to take a close look at the way I utilize books, the Internet, and publishing.
I don’t have a Kindle or a Kobo. I am a compulsive book buyer and have spent countless lunch hours at the West Broadway branch walking down each aisle, soothed by the rows of big, small, colourful, thick and thin paperbacks and hardbacks with their spines not yet cracked, neatly tucked into shelves for me to pluck out when I see something interesting. Like candy with no calories. As I listen to the classical music floating throughout the store, I breathe in and then out, knowing that the world is okay especially when I have a new book to read. This is likely why I receive over $100 in Book Warehouse gift certificates for Christmas each year.
I already spend most of my time reading from computer screens, whether at work as a computer trainer or at home writing my own stories and I read CBC online every morning, so I have already made the transition in some ways. But the thought of lying in bed with a small screen in front of me doesn’t sound the same as holding my new book opening its cover for the first time, carefully reading the publishing information at the front, the dedication on it’s own page, any quotes the author has chosen, and later flipping back to scenes that I want to read again.
In the corner of my bedroom stands a wooden bookshelf bought over 40 years ago, its back facing the wall, hiding “deliver to Dr. and Mrs. Irvine” written on the back in black felt pen along with my family’s address. This is the shelf that contains all the books I have not yet read. Sitting on the corner of my chaise lounge I lean over deciding what to read from my own bookstore, finding the right one for that moment.
Once I’ve read the book, I take out a small notebook that I keep in the cupboard of my bedside table and write down the name, publisher, date of publication, month and year read, and a short review. Satisfied, I walk the book downstairs and place it on the bookshelf that covers one wall, floor to ceiling, in the basement.
It doesn’t take me long to find a several books that I take to the cashier to check out how much I’ve spent.
“I have three gift certificates and no idea how much is on each.” I tell the woman behind the counter as I place my stack of five books – Tea Obreht, Elizabeth George, Virginia Woolfe, Steve Martin, and John Updike along with three birthday cards – in front of her.
“I may have money over to buy a few more.” I smile. For a moment this is really fun, a splurge that I didn’t expect.
“Let’s check and see then.” She says as she scans the plastic cards. I watch another store clerk milling around behind her that I spoke to the last time I had a gift certificate.
“I’m so sorry. I come here all the time. I work at City Hall so it’s easy to pop in.” I say. “I love it here. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.” I don’t know what else to say as I know they are losing their job.
She smiles. “It’s nice to have a local bookstore to browse through at lunch time.”
“You picked a good day to come.” The other store clerk tells me. “Yesterday it was packed in here. I thought we were going to sell out in one day. Even now.” I turn around as he motions to the people behind me filling the aisles, all with books in their arms on a usually quiet Friday morning.
I turn back to the cashier. “You have $53 left.” She tells me.
“Okay, I’ll be back shortly.” I grab my bag and dive into the store again, this time finding books by William Gibson, The Lonely Planet Southern Africa, quotes from Steve Jobs, and two birthday cards. At one point, I put my bag, books, and my umbrella on a wooden chair that always sits by the mystery section. I take a picture with my iphone, the irony not wasted on me. I’ve cried in here at times when the world out there was too much and I needed a safe place for just a few minutes. The final book I pull from the shelf? Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre.
“All the best.” I say as I take my two bags and walk out for the last time. I think again to the bedroom bookshelf. It’s overflowing and I’ve already resorted to tucking books horizontally on top of other books. Perhaps I’ll place the new ones on the floor and in my bedside table, although there’s a stack in there too as well as a pile by my bed (I see this as the magazine/sale rack/sporadically read area).
I haven’t decided if we book people need a revolution of our own or if we need to succumb and read from a stale gray screen.