Many have predicted that in the not-too-distant future books as we know them will cease to exist. Technology, they shout, will render books as useless as the beeper or the Walkman or the Segway. We can just read books on our laptops or our Kindles, or on our super fancy-shmancy phone thingamajigs, they say. Who needs to carry a cumbersome old book around? We have computers now, and computers do everything. I can fit hundreds of books in my fancy gadgets. Save the trees! Old books smell weird! The words are too small! They say a lot of things, these possibly well-meaning folks who want to ruin a passion of mine. But isn’t there room for your Kindles and your computers and your fancy phone thingamajigs and regular, old-fashioned books? But of course.
A great byproduct of books is, of course, bookstores. So much to see at a bookstore. So much to read. I love nothing more than wandering aimlessly inside a bookstore. Let me share my current experience, as it happens, for your reading pleasure.
I’m sitting in a large bookstore overlooking Union Square in San Francisco, sipping coffee, eating a pretzel with cream cheese, people watching and writing. This particular bookstore is mobbed, and it’s a strange, wonderful mix of people from all over the world, and from just down the street, like me. It’s nearly Christmas and everyone is scrambling for last minute gifts. What the hell does Aunt Edna Read? And what about Uncle Bob? The place is alive and vibrant, selling books and magazines and coffee to people who can’t get enough. People are pushing and shoving, fighting over the last copy of Augusten Burroughs’ new Christmas book with the Santa flasher on the cover.
I look around, I smile.
A woman scrambles past me, a child in one hand, a new edition of Where the Wild Things Are in the other. A man with a wild mustache stares at the cartoonish cover of A Confederacy of Dunces, not quite sure what to make of it, yet intrigued all the same. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb rests crookedly on an empty table, left behind by a read-and-runner. A young kid with purple hair and a jet black computer watches Lady Gaga videos on YouTube while sharing a table with an older woman in jeans and a neon green sweater who’s reading Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie. A woman who plays the violin in front of the store every day has come in from the cold for a few minutes, to warm her fingers while counting her accumulated change. A group of college kids speaking a little too loudly discuss the horror film they’re planning to make that will be “like Paranormal Activity but way, way more scary and good and totally kick-ass!” The woman at the table in front of me breastfeeds her daughter, while her husband silently scans the pages of the newest David Sedaris book.
A poster hangs on the wall promoting the upcoming in-store appearance by porn star Tera Patrick, who’ll be signing her new book: Sinner Takes All: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Porn. I glance through the window and stare out at Union Square’s giant Christmas Tree. People are ice skating and I hear the faintest echoes of holiday music. Macy’s has glowing wreaths in every window. I look away from the window as a large man bumps my table, nearly spilling his 4 dollar gingerbread latte.
I glance over at the nearby business section, and notice a pretty young girl talking on her cell phone, her boots exceedingly fashionable, her stockings dark, her smile big, and I imagine that she’s not thinking about business at all; I imagine she’s thinking about some sweet romantic encounter she’s either just had or is about to have. A middle-aged, sharply-dressed woman leafs through a copy of Push by Saffire, tears in her eyes, as she waits for a table. Many people are waiting for tables, eyeing me as I type and probably wondering when I’m going to finish whatever silliness I’m working on. Maybe I should get up and browse. So many books to read, so little time. I type my last words. It’s someone else’s turn.