A bookshop is not like a railway booking-office

“He should live with more books than he reads, with a penumbra of unread pages, of which he knows the general character and content, fluttering round him. This is the purpose of libraries… It is also the purpose of good bookshops, both new and secondhand, of which there are still some, and would that there were more. A bookshop is not like a railway booking-office which one approaches knowing what one wants. One should enter it vaguely, almost in a dream, and allow what is there freely to attract and influence the eye.

“To walk the rounds of the bookshops, dipping in as curiosity dictates, should be an afternoon’s entertainment. Feel no shyness or compunction in taking it. Bookshops exist to provide it; and the booksellers welcome it, knowing how it will end.”

– John Maynard Keynes ( from “Bookshops about more than just purchasing,” Canberra Times)

Schuler Books, a locally-owned bookstore chain here in Michigan, posted this today on their Facebook page. I love this store, and I love having a locally-owned bookstore only a few miles from my house, so I try to patronize the store when I buy new books (which, sadly, isn’t very often).

As Keynes says, there’s a world of difference between browsing in a store and “browsing” on a website. In a physical store, you can take everything in with a glance. You can follow something that catches your eye, rather than clicking on a subject area or a “recently popular” link. You can touch and hold things, make a stack to consider later, see the front/back/inside without waiting for the page to load, and going “back” just takes a step. I don’t think I’m explaining this well, but I do know that I never shop online unless it’s for products I can’t get locally or to get more information on a known product.

Besides, call me old a romantic, but I think books loose a lot when you convert them to data on a computer/tablet screen. Heck, everything does. There’s a difference between owning a CD (a tangible, physical thing, with a case and artwork, that takes up space in your home) and owning a bunch of mp3s you play in iTunes. The first is a possession; the second is just information. I always want to have the actual CD.

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