What I Learned After an Hour In a Real-life Bookstore

The multi-sensory experience of handling the actual book adds to the meaning.

Posted Aug 06, 2015

M. Blair
Source: M. Blair

Purchasing a book can be such an intensely personal process, one that has been somewhat diminished by the ability to order a title at any given time online. As my relationship with books has been one of great substance, I truly relished my recent experience at Munro’s Books in Victoria, British Columbia. I had wandered this bustling Canadian town on prior visits, but hadn’t had the pleasure of looking around this gem. During this visit, however, I was able to enjoy something I had been missing in my online shopping excursions: an authentic visit with a book.

What We Lost On Amazon.com

Choosing a book online is almost a stripped down, sterile exercise: read the reviews, check the image, look inside, read references from others and make the purchase. It’s convenient and it is a means to an end. Therefore, by comparison, visiting a brick-and-mortar bookstore feels like a leisurely experience, akin to visiting with a friend while sipping tea and sharing life stories. This was the feeling I got upon entering Munro’s Books.

As I perused the vast selection of books, enjoying the physical experience of touching them, thumbing through pages and perusing titles that piqued my interest, I savored the moment. Each book had its own personality, and had been selected with intent by the bookstore. From the moment I walked into Munro’s Books, I found myself going from shelf to shelf, pulling down books to read whatever caught my eye.

The hallmark of a good book is when can learn something—anything—just from reading a short snippet. When you get deeper into the book, then you are privy to an entire conversation, from which you can glean so much. In bookstores like this one, it’s clear that someone with an equally strong affinity for the value of books has taken the time to select the authors in question for what they bring to the table on a particular subject. My visit with these books left me full of new insights, even from those with which I had only spent a short time.

Reading is a Multi-Faceted Experience

Sometimes, as more of everyday life takes on a duality in the virtual realm, it’s hard to remember that this kind of bookstore exists; the kind where a shopkeeper selects titles because of the value they offer—either as a source of information or entertainment. This level of consideration may well be part of what’s missing when purchasing a book in the online environment.

There is also the physical experience of feeling the texture of the book, considering the thickness of it, inhaling the scent of the paper, and thumbing through the pages to catch a peek of the text to determine your level of intrigue. The physical element of the process is one of the most important aspects of it. It becomes a multi-sensory experience and more meaningful as a result. I moved from book to book, looking at the width, size, color and texture of each one, engaging in a way not possible online. Within two hours, I discovered at least six books that were compelling to me—ones I might not have considered otherwise.

An Experience to Cherish and Protect

The online experience is certainly content rich, but it is not an experience that can mimic fully the face-to-face meeting of book-in-hand—the multi-sensory stimulation that offers greater meaning and possibilities. New possibilities enhance resilience. Choose a bookstore where someone cares about the selection offered. Opt to shop with a shopkeeper that can offer ideas or advice based on the sheer knowledge of their offerings or their own love of books. The best bookstores mix it up with both bestsellers and more obscure titles with personality that jumps off the pages.

Can you think of a few good bookstores where the selections speak to you, adding value to your life in some way? Do you always rely on reviews and do they get in the way of the author’s ability to speak right to you? Do you challenge yourself in the way you interpret new thoughts or ideas from books?