I went to a bookstore yesterday. Bookstores are dangerous. Not all of us can simply open a door and walk into what our alternate life might be.
Bookstores always make me feel ambivalent, and this visit was no different. On the one hand, I felt a sense of hope. I saw a series of books by an ex-coworker’s brother. I worked with her years and years ago when he was a struggling unknown writer. She had given me his books and he and I exchanged a few emails. I liked his writing, but assumed that like most authors, he would write into obscurity and I’d never hear from him again. And yet here he was, with prime space in the young adult section.
On the other hand, as I walked around, I was stuck with a sense of the familiar. I had read all of these books. Not literally all of them, of course, but I had read books on nearly every shelf. I know I read a lot. But no matter how much I read, the world is infinitely full of more books. And yet the bookstore chains stock their shelves with the same few over again.
On the way home, my iPod, set to random, played: Wide Open Spaces, You Can Sleep While I Drive, What If We Went to Italy. I wondered if my iPod was trying to tell me something.
Why is it that I’m so driven to string together words and write them on a page? What does it matter?
I was talking to someone the other day who had struck me with his drive, his intelligence, his passion for helping others. But then he told me that he didn’t believe in reading books. He would rather experience the world in person than in print. It was like walking down the street, admiring the skyline, and being knocked over by a piano being hoisted from an apartment window by a crane. We can’t possibly experience all of the world: every view, every moment in time, every feeling. And for what we do experience, we don’t always get the story behind the story. The written word has honesty that other experiences can sometimes lack.
I stood in the bookstore like I always stand in bookstores and I breathed in the words. A panicked then, a little, about my life. I have a business, employees. And all I want to do is run away and write. Fortunately, I have those expensive sunrises to balance me.