In his essays "A Tale of Two Bookshops" from Browse: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vásquez writes about his love of and history with two favorite bookshops in Bogotá. They were places that helped form his reading and his writing, calling them a place of transformation. I can appreciate his sentiments when it comes to the joys of brick and mortar bookstores and what we miss and lose when they cease to exist. He was so familiar with the staff in one particular store that he could almost recognize them by their handwriting, something he was accustomed to seeing when he made a special order for a book not found on the shelves. There is a pleasure to 'book hunting'. Scanning shelves of various stores trying to locate a hard-to-find or out print book that you must have.
"These days of online shopping have robbed us of this as well: the peculiar pleasure of not finding the book, having to request it and wait for days or weeks or even months for it to arrive. The immediate satisfaction of online buying is no fun for me. Visiting several stores in search of a book, tracking it down and hunting for it like a difficult prey, continues to be one of the pleasures that is turning me, bit by bit, into an anachronistic bibliophile."
" . . . I remain in full admiration for this place, between the walls of which I've found so much happiness in print, and grateful that it is still in the hands of the Ungar family, seventy years on, instead of having sunk under the competition from the internet, which treats books as if they were hairdryers, or from so many contemporary readers, traffickers of electronic files for whim literature is so important, but so important that it doesn't seem fair to them to pay for it."
And this gives me little chills up my spine for the recognition of having the very same feeling.
"I can also think of the bookshop in Hay-on-Wye where I found a volume, gathering dust, that contained letters written from Colombia by an American Peace Corps volunteer. That book--published privately and discovered on the unpredictable shelves of a second-hand bookshop--turned out to be a key document for me when I was writing The Sound of Things Falling. The best bookshops are places where the principle of serendipity, which in broad strokes consists of finding the book you need when you don't yet know you need it, presents itself in all its splendor. A reader's life is, among other things, the tissue of opportune coincidences."
I love this book. Every new essay is another confirmation of how much I love reading, and while a solitary activity is still done among friends who (even if we all read very different books) understand the feelings a good book or good bookshop bring.