While online shopping for books offers a convenience, selection, and savings unmatchable anywhere else, it pales in comparison to browsing books in person. Everything online is targeted to exactly what you’re looking for or based on what you have already liked/bought. There’s no impromptu conversations with bookstore staff or strangers whose reading experience you can tap into on the spot. And there’s no tactile, sensory experience–every online book looks and smells like every other online book aside for a little cover thumbnail image. Everything is shelved where it should be. Any potential magic or serendipity has been coded right out of the process. Which is great if you know exactly what you want, need it quick, and don’t have time or other means to obtain it. But I think my life and reading would be less rich were it not for serendipitous finds, as well as the memories of how they were acquired. Below are three examples of such discoveries…
Two years ago, I finally got my butt in gear and headed off to the Small Press Expo (SPX), an annual festival of independent comics’ publishers and artists. I was excited to get a pre-release copy of Craig Thompson‘s new book, Habibi. Like a jackass, I show up 20 minutes before the author is due to be done signing copies of the books and line up much more than 20 minutes back. No big deal–I’m not much of an autograph collector. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes, I find out the pre-release copies are being sold as fundraiser for a comics legal fund. The price was about 3 or 5 times the cover price if I recall. Not quite what I’d budgeted for this purchase. I stood there kind of aimless for a bit, but then started browsing publications on the table, which is when I spotted Pure Trance. How does one not fall in love with the twisted, dangerous, sexy worlds that Junko Mizuno creates? One look at this cover and a flip through the pages and I was smitten.
This second discovery was in a thrift store where one may find such a strange and wide assortment of used books. This particular one (Flow: A Cultural History of Menstruation) looked brand new and caught my eye with its cheeky cover. The vintage ads on the inside didn’t hurt either.
And finally, there is the case of happening upon a deal too good to pass up: $3 for Spook Country by William Gibson.
Had I not ventured out, it is highly unlikely I would own, much less have read any of these titles. And there is pleasure in recalling where and how they were found. Sometimes the right books find you.