I recently read an article entitled, “A Thousand Hands Will Grasp You with Warm Desire: On the Persistence of Physical Books” written by Alix Christie. In this article Christie addresses the question of why physical books are so important to humans. She discusses the idea that, even in the age of the e-book, people are still drawn to physical books and publishers are beginning to engage in creating volumes that are aesthetically pleasing, visually stimulating, and therefore worth printing. She also discusses the idea of the book as a physical space. She says:
a book we crack with our two hands creates an actual physical space for reverie that functions as an oasis outside daily life, a cocoon in space and time. An e-book can perform this function too, although I wonder if it takes us quite as far away. After all, these tactile qualities are part and parcel of the world the book creates. In the end, refusal of the e-book comes down to a refusal of sensory impoverishment. With all the senses we possess, why settle only for the eyes?
This statement got me thinking. If books create a physical space for us to engage in the act of reading and imagination because of its content and the sensory stimulation it provides, what about the bookstore itself? Bookstores are indeed physical spaces, and I’ve found that often the atmosphere of a bookstore can create a similar cocoon-like feeling.The often solitary acts of browsing through stacks of books, occasionally opening one, leafing through its pages, maybe reading a chapter or two, create a liminal experience set within the realm of the bookstore. How is it liminal and how does the bookstore contribute to this feeling of liminality? The act of perusing a book in a bookstore places the reader on the threshold of purchasing or not purchasing. At the same time the bookstore is a real world location that seemingly disappears while the customer is engaged in reading. The reader is physically present in the store, but mentally present in the book, thus they are caught between two places creating a sense of liminality. While it is true that this could be said of any place in which a person chooses to read, I think there is something special about the atmosphere created by a bookstore in particular. A bookstore is, in essence, a sacred space. In this context, I do not mean sacred with a religious connotation, but instead I am defining sacred as “reverently dedicated to some purpose, person, or object” (dictionary.com). In this instance, that object is the book and in some ways the reader as well. Bookstores sell books, they are dedicated to and reliant upon the customer who visits them, searching for the next good read. So what about online stores like Amazon? Despite being a digital store, Amazon still sells physical copies of books, and ordering a book off of Amazon is easier and often cheaper then purchasing from the actual store. However, similar to the argument Christie made in her article about the persistence of physical books, I would argue that physical bookstores persist for the same reason. They provide a dedicated space for sensory experiences that stimulate and engage people in ways that a digital presence cannot. The atmosphere provided by a bookshop enhances the browsing experience by creating sensory stimulation and allowing room for imagination. Visiting a bookstore intensifies the feelings of exploration and discovery in ways that are impossible to feel while sitting at home with a laptop.
If you are interested in Alix Christie’s full article click here.
Gif Source: Giphy.com