Re-discovering Bookstores

Smoky Yosemite
Smoky Yosemite

On this site, I’ve discussed how to find new reads, my pile of unread books and libraries. But not bookstores.

Most of my purchases (for everything) are on Amazon for price, convenience, and selection. When I get a recommendation, nothing is easier than ordering on Amazon. But there is a discovery problem. Sure, Amazon recommends books based on purchase and browsing history. But these recommendations are simplistic and favor popular titles. New books have to prove themselves before I invest the time and energy; the millions of titles from the last few hundred years deserve equal consideration.

Which brings me to bookstores. Touching books, the smell of coffee and binding, racks full of speciality magazines. Whenever I travel, I stop at local, independent stores. Powell’s in Portland, Oregon, was a religious experience. Locally, I was limited to an old-school Barnes and Noble. Spending time in that store wasn’t appealing; it was loud and focused as much on selling toys and trinkets as books.

But our local BN left their classic building last year and took a smaller space. And the redesign is great. Very book centric. This is part of a trend from BN.

This re-thinking of BN works. I enjoy picking up a coffee and wandering through the stacks. The layout is much airier and inviting.

It’s not perfect. They desperately need a used-book section. And the new store still dedicates too much shelf space to crappy celebrity cookbooks and current events titles with flashy titles. But these are small things.

On my most recent visit, I experienced the magic of the in-person bookstore. I needed a new read so I wandered the fiction section. And one name jumped out: Tom Wolfe. The day before, I watched a short documentary on Netflix called Radical Wolfe. I didn’t know (before the movie) he wrote The Right Stuff or Bonfire of the Vanities. And there it was, a gold-covered copy of Bonfire smiling up at me, eye-level. This wouldn’t have happened via Amazon (yes, cookies and tracking, but I am so jaded by any sort of ads online I ignore the recs).

The new BN format is a welcome change. I’ll still order from Amazon for quick, definitive purchases, but I’m in BN at least monthly now.

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