BuzzFeed has drawn up a lovely list of great bookshops to visit (mostly in England) on your next extended vacation. Even if you can’t go right away, looking at the pictures of the shops is a fine way to pass the time on a Saturday. I visited Blackwell’s some years ago, and the sight of the couch at Hatchard’s makes me desperate to go there right now.
Everyone’s browsing style is unique to him or her. Some people approach a bookstore as if they were on a commando raid–darting in, grabbing the books they want, and darting out, almost before anyone knows they were there. Others linger over specific sections on a weekly basis–in my case, history and biography–looking for and hoping to find a gem they haven’t seen yet. Still others will plop themselves down on that comfy couch and read, absorbed, for hours, almost as if they were searching for something or taking a trip. And they are. As the little sign in Hatchard’s says, “We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” That is true, but there is often something else involved with such journeys.
We may sometimes seek “other states, other lives, other souls” in our reading, but I find that what we want most is for our reading to unlock the doors in the house of our own lives. Sometimes–wonderfully, magically–it does. Our reading can grant us a flash of insight or perspective, as when we finally look at an anamorphic painting from the proper angle and see all that is truly there, scary and thrilling. Sometimes, however, we read fitfully, searching in vain for a word or an image that will do more than connect us with someone else’s life. We seek that which will reveal to us the depth of our own life, take its measure. and give us a way to navigate the waters. We seek through our reading to become not merely better people, but the people we think we can be, even if it means taking the risk that we will end up being far different people from the ones we thought we would be.