Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Bookstores’ ambiance can’t be digitally replicated

By Cynthia Oi


When I first took the book in hand, I did not know that the illustration out front was a painting by Charles M. Russell, an artist whose images of the Old West made him famous.

The painting, entitled “Meat’s Not Meat ’Till It’s In the Pan,” shows a cowboy, rifle laid over elbow, gaping as a bighorn sheep he presumably hoped would be his dinner tumbles off a high, snow-covered mountain ledge as his indifferent horses stand by.

Not one to judge a book by its cover no matter how amusing, I peeled open the pages past a folksy map and read the opening lines. Hooked.

As Borders takes its leave from the retail market, readers won’t be deprived of books. The surviving mega-bookstore company, small shops and online sellers that have cut broad inroads through bricks-and-mortar turf will welcome Borders’ customers.

Whether they prefer the real thing with crinkling paper pages that release a tantalizing new-book scent that hints of adventures awaiting inside, or the more sterile, arguably more convenient, electronic versions displayed on gray screens powered up for finger swipes, readers will always have books.

How they get them should not matter, but it does, at least to me.

Like many people, I have my favorite writers and look forward to their new publications. Book reviews and websites clue in readers as to what’s coming up and offer suggestions for purchase. Word of mouth also helps in the hunt.

But I like browsing. I like walking into a bookstore, surveying the wealth of its contents and wandering through its aisles in anticipation of finding something out of the ordinary.

Though I’m usually searching for fiction, I get a kick out of blundering through the nonfiction shelves to discover a fascinating dissertation on the evolving science of forest fires or a history of quilting in America.

Stumbling across works of a novelist whose latest volume was unsatisfying and digging out her early treasures brings immense gratification.

Though the way bookstores classify books is limiting, e-shopping for stuff to read seems even more confining. (Particularly annoying are sites that track what you’ve examined or bought previously; just because you liked one George Pelecanos “thriller/mystery” doesn’t mean you want to read similar stories by lesser authors.)

Categories such as nonfiction, for example, are overly broad online, and when broken down, sift bafflingly from economics to transportation to holidays. Clicking from one to the next is tedious and time consuming.

Scanning titles on a shelf is quicker and at bookstores dabbling in the different is embraced, appreciated.

Then there’s the fellowship of a bookstore. Almost everybody — from “Sesame Street” kids, manga-mania youths, writer-wannabe women, travel-guide researchers to self-help consumers — has congregated there for a single, special interest: to find something to read.

By today’s marketing standards, the artwork on my old, beat-up, taped-together copy of Ivan Doig’s “English Creek” seems antiquated. Newer editions have updated covers, but the story’s the same and the randomness of my choice is in itself a reward.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at

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