Sometimes I wander into bookstores for no apparent reason. And when I do this, I know before I walk in that I won’t leave without a book. I know I won’t leave without a book, and often I don’t leave without many books, and it doesn’t matter how impractical it is for me to buy it (especially if I’m buying my fourth copy of a book I know I will probably have to leave in a fourth country), I just know I need that book and I need it for my very own and I need it right that very instant.
Sometimes, when I wander into bookstores to buy a book that I probably don’t technically need, I stop at exactly the same section. It doesn’t matter what bookstore it is or if I’ve ever been to that particular store before. I go to the fiction section and I stop right at the end of the Gs and just before H begins. I stop and I find the exact spot where my books will be, and I see the names that would be on either side of mine.
Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I technically don’t need and look at the books that would be surrounding my book, I pick them up and read the backs and sometimes I’m disappointed. They’re often normal, much like all other books in the store. They deal with normal people having normal problems. My stories, and you’ll know this if you’ve read them, are not normal. I have tried to write normal ones, and they’re fine – really, they are. But normal stories don’t excite me. I am constrained by reality enough in day-to-day life, why have to obey the same rules in fiction?
Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I technically don’t need and I am disheartened by how normal the books are that surround where my book would be, I go and I touch the covers of books I love. I find the books that stick with me, that give me hope that strange books and literary books can be the same books, and I left myself remember them. I remember the moments that they touched me, I check out the differences between hardcover and paperback and US vs Commonwealth editions and I remember all the things they’ve given me, these books. I cling to them.
Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I don’t need and am recovering from my disappointment in the normalcy of books by visiting books I think of as old friends, I remember the authors. I remember the way they talk about their stories and the silly conversations I’ve had while vaguely tipsy in a bar (often about them, but sometimes with them) and I smile. I smile because I know this is my world. I smile because I know these are my people – that we have friends and hobbies and passions in common.
Sometimes, when I stop in a bookstore to buy a book I don’t need and have spent time visiting old books and remembering authors I love because the disappointment about how normal life can be is just too crushing, I stop and remember how lucky I am. Lucky that this is my life, lucky that I have a safe haven that I can escape to, lucky that I already feel that this is my world. That there is no barrier to entry because I can already see a crack of light where the door is open and all I have to do is figure out how to open it the rest of the way.
And to be reminded of that, I think, is worth the price of a book.