As a part time nanny to two teenagers, I often have weekends where there is a lot of stagnant time between dropping off and picking up. It’s a blissful opportunity to read or work on my own writing, usually in my truck as I wait. Saturday, one of the kids was auditioning for a local play and wouldn’t be more than two hours. Instead of sitting and waiting, I decided I would pop over to the bookstore. I was in desperate need of fiction after months of soaking up one research book after the next. I sifted through the bargain section first, as I’ve always had luck finding a cheap gem. Nothing really caught me as the history and science section started swallowing up the kind of stories I was hoping to find. The fiction shelves brought much of the same and even my beloved fantasy and science fiction shelf (yes, singular) seemed to be horribly absorbed with too many books about the exact same thing. I wanted something fresh and adventurous that would relieve me from the constant drain of this life. I didn’t want to read fiction stories about things I experienced every day. I didn’t want to read the heart wrenching, based on a true story plot that you are pounded with any time you sign onto the internet. I’m sick of the dark and uninspiring stories about being cheated on and the ugly morals that mirror talk show subjects.
I spent forty-five minutes on a mission to find something with a spark. All I found were stand alones and series’ by well known authors being praised about subjects that were popular years ago. I found new authors all writing about WWII heartbreaks (both romantic and internal) and current social separation with the same theme of independence. I gave them all a chance anyway. I read the first page. I put them back. I found shelves and shelves of the same uninspiring thing. I picked up Jane Austen in a moment of despair and was immediately drawn into a story I have read (and watched on film) one hundred times. I picked up a book on Tesla’s theories and philosophy with the same success. I even considered a fiction book written recently dealing with an interesting take on the zodiac signs (that I will probably end up purchasing).
I left the giant bookstore empty handed and picked up Ellie. I told her about what had happened. She’s an artist and a reader herself and we have had many interesting conversations in the years that I have been taking care of her. At twelve years old, she is capable of going toe to toe with me on ideas about the infinite reach of space, what kind of things might be out there, and even the relativity of time. I have had more interesting and stimulating conversations with her than I did in store full of pages promising to inspire the same thing, by people triple her age. Perhaps it is time to stop fearing what the next generation will do and start fearing the staleness of those driving our society “forward.”
My point is this. Don’t blame e-readers for the death of bookstores. Blame the people stocking their shelves with 100 books about the same thing. Blame the people who only want to sell what is “safe” and “expected to sell.” Blame the people who have no faith in the curiosity of their readers. Blame the corporations for strangling the unique and beautiful independent bookstores who offer a myriad material. Blame the rule followers, not the rule breakers.
Create at least one new idea a day. Use your imagination, day dream! Let yourself consider what is beyond the things you see every day. Dare to think of something beautiful and inspiring and adventurous! Think of one gentle, rebellious way to break out of the mundane system.
Photo credit: Natalie Portman by James White
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