There’s No Place Like Bookstore Home
Earlier this month, I went to a place I hadn’t been in more than a year.
I had an appointment at the Apple Store at the mall. The goal was to fix the battery drain on my wife’s iPhone after the most recent operating system update. Apple has its store procedures down to a fine art. Make an appointment, arrive a few minutes early to get your temperature taken, stand where designated outside the store until a rep checks you in, stand where designated in the checked-in line, and then a rep comes and gets you for your appointment. In this case, he diagnosed the problem and offered a solution (reset the phone).
I had to make another appointment for the fix. Fortunately, it was only 90 minutes later. I had some time. And I succumbed to the siren call of the mall’s Barnes & Noble store. I hadn’t been in a bookstore since pre-pandemic times, but I was more than two weeks past my second vaccination shot, I was wearing my mask, and I was expert in maintaining social distancing (and giving the evil eye to others who weren’t).
I was ready for the bookstore. More than ready. To be candid, I had already quietly plotted a visit tied to the iPhone appointment. The gap between diagnosis and fix provided the perfect excuse.
I love bookstores like all readers love bookstores. Yes, services like Amazon had enormously opened up reading possibilities, but a bookstore is a special place. You can’t browse online like you browse in a bookstore. Online, you pretty much know what you’re looking for. “Customers also bought” is nothing like browsing the aisles of a brick-and-mortar store, with people who can help you, people who are readers themselves.
As soon as I entered Barnes & Noble, I could see the changes. Everything had moved. Space had opened up. Changing locations of items drives me crazy at the grocery store; changes of locations for book genres are the bookstore simply offered new opportunities to discover.
Instead of a big table right at the entrance featuring new releases, small tables were scattered (at least six feet apart), each featuring one book. The section for new releases was still near the front but reconfigured on the right side.
As I strolled and browsed, I discovered that almost everything had changed. One exception was the children’s books department, still in the same place. But it, too, was changed—with an expanded section for puzzles, games, toys, and other basic childhood needs.
One thing hadn’t changed: the smell of books, with a slight overlay of café coffee.
History and religion books were diagonally opposite from where they used to be in a rear corner. Now they’re by the cashier area at the front of the store. Fiction, mystery, science fiction, fantasy and romance have all been reconfigured. So has the business books section. The manga section has been nearly doubled in size. Travel books are in generally the same area, but with a smaller selection (reflecting pandemic realities). The café is still open, but the seating area is considerably smaller and tables more spaced out.
My primary target was the poetry section. It is close to where it used to be, back near the music department, but instead of finding one long shelf filled with classic poetry, I’m greeted with a big surprise. I discovered four long shelves displaying a diversity of poets, poetry, eras, and criticism. The shelves hold as many contemporary collections as they do classic poets. The last time I was here, more than a year ago, I was hard-pressed to find any of the “Instagram poets” like r.h. Sin. Now they abound. The diversity of contemporary titles is also a change; the selection of Black poets is no longer limited to Maya Angelou and Claudia Rankine.
Seeing both the expanded shelving and the diversity in the collections leads me to believe that the pandemic has been very good for poetry. Either that or someone who really knows poetry well is now in charge of the section. Perhaps it’s both.
With all of the changes, I spent almost 90 minutes in bookstore heaven. It was a joy simply to wander and browse, to see what was new and what had endured, both in the store and the books it offered for sale.
I used to haunt bookstores of almost all sizes and varieties—big, small, used, specialty, neighborhood, mall, big box.
After a year of enforced pandemic isolation, it felt like being home again.
- Poets and Poems: Atticus and “The Dark Between Stars” - August 3, 2021
- Poets and Poems: Paul Willis and “Somewhere to Follow” - July 13, 2021
- Poets and Poems: Claude McKay and “Harlem Shadows” - July 6, 2021