It’s that time of year again. Too hot to move, too tired to care, too many mosquitoes in the steamy air.
Summer in the Capital City. The limousine crowd have their serene getaways, their island cottages, their lakeside cabins. But once they get to their secluded vistas I wonder if they really spend much time drinking in the scenery. Or do they, like so many ordinary folks, pack a book or two to escape from the quiet boredom that sometimes lurks behind too much perfect scenery?
I don’t do a lot of traveling, but wherever I am, whatever the season, I’m lost without a book to read.
With all the thousands of books in stores and libraries, to say nothing of the continually expanding ebook universe, you’d think it would be easy to always have a book or two on hand. Yet, reading is such a very personal experience. One person’s “timeless classic” is another person’s dreary yawnfest. Like many chronic readers, I have my short-list of go-to authors whose works I’ve read and reread over the years. But there is still the thrill of the hunt, the hope of finding some new or old previously undiscovered voice in a book.
While it’s not hard to find lists, hundreds, nay thousands, of lists assembled by enthusiastic readers eager to share their opinions about various authors, I’ve found such lists to be of little value. Nor am I swayed by the gushing blurbs on book covers, the ringing endorsements of superb authors, or the bludgeoning force of best seller statistics. For me, it all comes down to the writing. Either it speaks to me or not. One word at a time, one sentence after another. A tone of voice, a touch of humor, perhaps a pinch of mad romance or helpless folly, and I’m in.
I freely confess I enjoy the hunt almost as much as the discoveries. In the pursuit of engaging stories I’ve spent many happy hours wandering in bookstores, but not the big chains with full-court marketing strategies. The bookstores I seek out are the independent champions of the written word, where all books, especially ones with pages you can turn with your hot little hands, are beloved.
On a recent trip to Los Angeles, a city where traditionally spectacle has overshadowed text, I was thrilled to visit The Last Bookstore. The name itself sounds like a good title for a story. Inside, it unfolds like something dreamed up by Lewis Carroll. Thousands of books, new and used, aren’t simply displayed on shelves in the ordinary manner. Venture beyond the ground floor to the Labyrinth above where whimsical arrangements offer a kind of meta commentary on the delights of getting lost in a good book. You won’t want to leave in hurry.
The dizzying displays call to mind the magical library of Unseen University in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, where books contain spells so powerful they must be chained to the shelves to keep them from flying free.
That’s what I’m talking about. Hard core literary magic. It’s good for what ails you.