Survivor’s Guilt

The smell was the first thing that hit me.  It was that dry, sharp, musty aroma of well-thumbed old paper, stacked close together.  The light was dim, giving the place a reverent feel, a holy place from before electricity cast its harsh glow on everything, when time was measured in the life of a flickering candle.  All around me were things that had been loved once, and would be loved again, but as I stood in their midst, one thought kept playing through my mind.

I’m helping to kill all this.

The place in question was Here Be Dragons Bookshoppe, an absolutely charming used book store in  downtown Winter Garden.  It’s easy to miss, especially in the whirl of activity of the spring festival that had brought Hannah and I to the city.  But if there’s anything I can do, it’s spy out a book shop, so I made sure our path led us there.  I let Hannah wander around a little clothing boutique for a while to make up for it.

Beyond the look and smell of the place, the shop was rife with sense memories.  I kept seeing book covers that I’d once owned, or that I remembered seeing on shelves at Waldenbooks when I was a kid, when the science fiction and fantasy section was all of one shelf wide and it seemed Michael Whelan and Darrell K. Sweet did the art for every single book.  I must have picked up a dozen books, checking the price on each of them, and every time reminding myself, “I have a Nook now.”

I felt completely out of sorts.  I wanted to buy something, anything, but the idea was to stop cluttering up the apartment with books, wasn’t it?  But an e-book doesn’t make that comforting sound when you rifle the pages, doesn’t comfortingly occupy that space on the bookshelf so you can look up and know it’s there, waiting to be read.  Then again, I could probably fit an electronic copy of every book in that store on my Nook and still have room to spare.  So I stood there, wrestling with what the act of reading meant to me:  the images conjured by the words, the sensations conjured by the physical book, or some alchemical mix of both.

Fortunately, Hannah swooped in to sate my desire to take a piece of this store with me.  She fell in love with a 1955 issue of National Geographic, complete with dated advertisements for such exotic places as Las Vegas and Florida.  She also got a copy of the very first Nancy Drew book, a relic from her childhood, so at least one of us was able to exercise their nostalgia that day.

As our technology allows us more and more instant gratification, a lot of the charm of our entertainment is going to fade away.  We don’t have to struggle to stay up until one or two in the morning to catch some classic old movie (as if television stations actually run anything but infomercials at that time).  We don’t have to drive an hour or two away to catch some obscure movie that’s not playing in our town.  We don’t have to scour the shelves hoping the store finally got another copy of the next book in the series we’re reading, or that new CD from our favorite singer.  We’ve taken the thrill of discovery and replaced it with the comfort of convenience.  And I’m still struggling with whether we’re better for it.

I think the next time I weed out my book collection, I’ll make sure some of them end up at Here Be Dragons rather than the library.  Then again, maybe I won’t be able to part with them at all.  Maybe I’ll want to keep one foot firmly in the past even as I step into the future.  I just hope Hannah doesn’t mind all the bookshelves.

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