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OPINION | What Kind of Connections Do You Make With Books? Or why I didn't want to buy it online?


In my recent procurement post the other day I mentioned my desire to buy Gene Wolfe's Shadow & Claw in a bookstore instead of online. Or to be more precise:
I've been looking for this book on and off for the last couple of years, but whenever I think of it the store I'm in only seems to have the second volume. For some reason there are some books I want to buy in a store and some I'll buy online. In this case I wanted to grab it in store.
Now this essay could have easily focused on the fact that most bookstores have a poor stocking of backlist books (that's publisher jargon for older books), but I felt the less trod upon idea is one of personal memories made with said books. The more I& pondered about this thought the more I wanted to discover the why. Not about why I like a certain book or why I buy a particular book, but more on why I buy them where I do and what types of associations I make with these books.  Sometimes a book doesn't evoke memories of the story, but the story of your life at the time when you read it or where you found it.

(no books were actually harmed in the
montaging of this image)

Like most people I obtain my books from a wide swathe of sources. Of course I receive a good number of review copies from publishers, but I'm still a big book purchaser. I have to go to a real bookstore at least every two weeks (more often if I can), but I also buy online regularly, especially pre-orders and I've even been known to use PaperBackSwap.com and BookCrossing.com from time-to-time. However, there are some books I need to buy in person to get the right satisfaction out of the purchase. A lot of this also has something to do with the inner hunter spirit trying to get out from the cave I've sequestered it in to spear that elusive white rhino. To get that special find in your cross hairs you've been desiring for awhile along with the instant satisfaction and feel of it in your hands. To know you put in more effort than a couple clicks of the mouse and a few key strokes.

The proliferation of internet buying has taken the fun somewhat out of a good book hunt. I can remember only 6 or 7 years ago calling around to bookstores to find a particular book and making the trek there or even doing mail order a couple times if the book in question was nowhere to be found around me. Also, it gives certain bookstores good street cred in my eyes if they have a book I've been scouring for and this fact will make me go back to that store even if it's out of the way. And don't tell me about special ordering the book in a particular store. That takes all the fun out of it.  One habit I have is when I travel for vacation or work is to always drop by a local bookstore and pick-up a book. I nearly always remember where I bought said book, which is accompanied by memories of the place.


Traveling into those old dusty bookstores where you just want to pitch a tent and camp out for days because you never know what you're going to come upon is what I'm after. To find my personal Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There is one store in particular that comes to mind: Dauphine Street Books in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I've been to NOLA at least a half dozen times before, but they were the find on the last trip as one thing you do in New Orleans is wander about the Quarter. What caught my eye was a women putting out a box of books on a stoop with a little "$1 each - Pay& Inside" sign. I look up and what do I see but the glorious sight and musty smell of a store so packed with books you can barely move around in it because of the waist height piles in every already narrow aisle.

I spent 2 hours in that tightly packed store and had 8 books at one point, but winnowed it down to 4 because tough decisions must be made when traveling. Of those I can't remember one, but two others have become very cherished in my collection with the last still unread. The two cherish volumes are my numbered edition of Adventures in the Dream Trade by Neil Gaiman, which was a steal at $50 especially since I had never seen it before and The Bear Who Went Over the Mountain by Walter Kotzwinkle, which turned out to be one of the funniest books I've ever read. What happens now every time I look at these books is a memory of  the good times I spent in that bookstore and by extension my vacation. And also the beignets  Can't forget those delicious puffs of fried dough... drool....


Than we have the idea of how where you first read a book can ingrain itself in you. For me the foremost example of this is Chronicles by Bob Dylan. I bought it right before I went on my honeymoon. I see it every time I look at my bookshelf where the memories flood back of sitting on the most perfect beach while reading along side my wife and the adventures we had on that trip. All of this has to do with creating more of a real connection to the experiences had while reading the book and not just the story. Not that they aren't important too.

Feel free to chime in with books and stories that bring back your most vivid memories.


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5 comments:

Chris Connaughton said...

I still remember hunting down the same softback edition of The Lord of the Rings that my friend had brought into class the week before. It was the Unwin edition from the mid 1970s, (You remember, the one in three volumes with the card envelope binding them together. It had the illustration of Frodo climbing through the forest.) It seemed really important to have the same edition while we both read the book and discussed it every day in school. I think I visited every bookshop in town to find it. (Of course, this was long before internet shopping!) The book is still on my bookshelf and still makes me think of my friend. Chris Connaughton, author of The Beltheron Pathway www.thebeltheronpathway.com

Seak (Bryce L.) said...

I don't have any specific story, but I DO love finding great books at local used book shops. Usually I have a hard time finding anything, but when you find those great books for an awesome price it's a great feeling.

I actually do the same; I try to visit any used book store in any new town I visit. You never know if it might be a goldmine. :)

Pipedreamergrey said...

Am I the only person who is induced to buy more at the bookstore by the smell? Because that binding glue is harder on my wallet than fresh pastries at the bakery.

Mad Hatter Review said...

@Pipedreamergrey - I've been known to be attracted by the scent now and again.

Anonymous said...

I can't think of one book in particular but scanning the shelves I'm definitely pulled into memories of different times and faces. One reason I like gifting book - people never forget the connection - especially if it was a great read. Amazing how characters and places can flash you into memories of your own story line. -Lore