Saturday May 2nd is Independent Bookstore Day, so I’ve written a short, tongue in cheek piece of fiction, in honour of the experience of small bookstores and keeping them alive. Enjoy!
I’ve been going to the By the Book since I was a child. It’s still run by the Greene twins – two sisters, now in their seventies, who always wear red lipstick and dress identically in a smart outfit. When I was away at college, I’d buy books from Amazon, but once I came back home, on principle, I refused to feed the beast, even if it cost a little more. By the Book orders anything for me not in stock and it comes within a week.
Last year, By the Book closed for the month of February for renovations. As soon as the Grand re-opening day came, I went into the bookshop and the whole store looked bigger and brighter, with comfy reading chairs at the end of each bookshelf. They’d installed iPads as their new cash registers. I could even have my receipt sent to me by email.
The old smell of musty books was a little less strong, but it became more pungent when I wandered through their second hand book section. I noticed a copy of A Tale of Two Cities, and thought I might reread it. I opened the book and immediately felt light headed. My vision blurred and when I opened my eyes again, I was surrounded by a group of people shouting. I looked around to see what the commotion was and three men and two women in raggedy period costumes were being pulled in a wooden cart through a crowd of people, and oh my goodness, at the edge of the crowd was a guillotine!
I went up to the nearest person I could find to ask what was going on but they ignored me as if I wasn’t there. I reached out to the next person and even more disturbingly, my hand went straight through them. I screamed, closed my eyes tight and willed myself to be back in the store.
When I opened my eyes, I was sitting in one of the comfy reading chairs, the book held shakily in my hand. Somehow I’d been transported back to into the period of the book and the French Revolution. I’d been inside the book!! How was this possible? But I knew that’s what had happened. I went up to the counter.
” Excuse me, ” I asked one of the twins. “Has anyone noticed anything strange about this book?”
” Oh Meredith, so nice to see one of our loyal customers enjoying our renovations.” She smiled and moved down the counter to help the next customer.
I could barely think, left the book on the counter and went home.
But I was back the next day and this time I chose Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As soon as I opened the book, my vision blurred and I heard cars honking. I looked around and I was outside a jewellery store in downtown Manhattan, yellow taxis streaming by. Again, I tried to speak to a passerby, but no one seemed to see me, so I willed myself back to the store and came to, sitting again in a reading chair.
I’m not one for fantasy books, so this scenario of being transported into the time and place of a book did not sit well with me. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone what had happened, but over the next couple of weeks, I went into the store and each time I opened a book I had a similar experience. I brought a couple home with me, but the “book travel”, if that’s what you can call it, only happened in the store.
Several weeks passed and my experience repeated itself each time I opened the books in the store and stopped once I willed myself back. I began to enjoy the “book travel” and each time I went further and further into the scene I had landed in. I also noticed that the comfy reading chairs were all full, customers often having a slightly dazed look about them.
Then I changed jobs and moved to the edge of town to lessen the commute, which made it much more difficult to go to By the Book. So, I reluctantly decided it was time to break with tradition and started buying books through Amazon. It was so easy to just hit one click and I could even buy second hand books too. But after a few months, I really missed “book travelling” and went back to the store relishing the thought of being transported to another world.
I opened a copy of The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, a risky choice, but I was ready for something more challenging. Nothing happened. Gone Girl, still nothing. I moved back into the second hand section and chose another Dickens book, Oliver Twist. Nothing. I finally went back to A Tale of Two Cities, but no matter how hard I tried, nothing happened. So I went up to the counter unsure of how I would ask my question.
“Er… Has anything changed with these books?” I asked one of the twins.
She looked at me and said, “Oh, nothing’s changed with the books, Meredith. It’s only our customers loyalty that changes.” Her ruby red lips broadened into a smile as she turned away to help the next customer.
Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media.