Books ain't what they used to be. There was an earlier time when younger me would be driven to the library, and then promptly lose herself in the stacks till her parents extracted her after hours of searching for her. With the addition of an income, I spent my time at bookstores, again sitting in the aisles for hours till an associate would none-too-gently remind me again that the store had been closed for fifteen minutes. The principle was the same - enter a building with no direction other than forward, and let the book spines be mile markers and directional arrows to move me from shelf to shelf.
I even embraced the mega-book-behemoth of Amazon for its dirt-cheap pricing and free shipping, for those collegiate times when I lived in a town where the nearest bookstore was a 20 minute drive. I'm not even going to get into e-readers, Kindles, Nooks, you know what you are; suffice to say they are simply another tool to read, not a replacement of the book itself. I did, however, realize a crucial gap recently with book browsing and book reading.
Yesterday, I went to Borders, where I pursued for a time, looking at interesting covers, following recommendations from accredited authors to their books. And then, I proceeded to text to myself the titles of promising-looking books and names of interesting authors, so I could remember them when I went online to Amazon to purchase them.
(Having just said that, let me say I am the biggest fan of the physical bookstore. I am also a fan of saving money as a fourth-year college student. I had received Amazon gift cards for my birthday, and above all, I am a fan of free books.)
Barring the notion of saving money, can you see the weird situation society has presented me where I have to write down books in one place, to purchase them in another? This isn't smart shopping. This, I realized, is the inability of the internet to provide a simple, yet crucial aspect of finding a suitable book: browsing. Forget the enchantment of running fingers along book spines: if you plan on book shopping on the internet, you must have a plan before you even open up the browser window. You must be armed with title, author, genre, and then you must stay there, unless you choose to follow those suggested recommendations from studies of previous viewers of the books you're looking at, and more often then not they will lead you full circle back to where you started. You can't browse on a computer screen like you can in a bookstore.
Recognizing this looming gap only after I'd placed my order, I would have continued down a dark path that leads only to unknowable, yet terrifying thoughts of a book-less world, had not my family's plans led me somewhere nearly forgotten - the public library.
And suddenly, childhood came flooding back in the smell of plastic-wrapped hard covers and crammed metal shelving. The gap still exists, between the ever growing world of digital books that manage to reduce the weight of ancient tomes into plastic the width of a clipboard, and the familiar feel of a book so loved it doesn't lay limp in your hand so much as curl up in your palms like a small contented animal. It may never be bridged, and I don't think it should be. I hold libraries and bookstores too sacrosanct, the daily devotion of fingers on pages, to be able to withstand their conversion into 1's and 0's. But no matter the plummeting depths, the quiet library continues to offer books and browsing, together. It offered itself to me today, and I dwelled there till, in the eternal pattern of parents, they appeared to usher me to the checkout counter. My childhood lives.
I'm Elizabeth Kidder, freelance illustrator currently located in Knoxville, TN. Please enjoy the site and Contact Me with any job inquiries or questions.