November, 1996 September 07


Date Night Reading Crisis by Cheri Dobbs

My most recent date night with my husband went as it often does – indulgent food (grilled bacon mac & cheese sandwiches – yes, that’s a thing) and a movie (Mr. Holmes), but then we had some time to kill.  I remembered that there was a bookstore nearby, and suddenly, I was nostalgic for what used to be one of my favorite pastimes – wandering around a bookstore.  “Let’s go,” I said, “even if we don’t need to buy anything.” HA! The idea of “just looking” didn’t even last until I got past the bargain books in the entryway. Within the first five minutes I held two books to put aside for Christmas gifts, and I’d taken a picture of a paperback and texted it to my teenage daughter for her purchasing approval.

“What’s the big deal?” you’re probably asking. We’re all readers; we go to bookstores.  The thing is, I haven’t been going to bookstores.  I read a lot, more than I have in years, but almost everything is a download to my Nook via my school and public libraries.  I switched to an e-reader 4 or 5 years ago in the hopes that I would never run out of reading material on vacation again. The bonus, as it turned out, was that I became a better reader.  Being able to change the line spacing and the font size of the text helped me focus better, both visually and cognitively, and therefore, I read more.  After almost 20 years as a librarian, I had been struggling with the ability and the time to read a lot of books. The Nook was the shot in the arm I needed to get my reading mojo back. (The reading glasses I got a couple of years ago didn’t hurt either. J)

November, 1996

November, 1996

Until that date night, though, I hadn’t realized how much I missed going to bookstores. From the time I was little and wandered through used book stores with my mom, I loved killing time in a bookstore. When my daughter was born, her very first outing was to the now-shuttered children’s bookstore, Halfway Down the Stairs.

In my former life, my father-in-law was a professor of library science who specialized in children’s literature.  We spent hundreds of hours buying all kinds of books, until my home library of children’s books topped 3,000 volumes, and he and I created a database to keep track of our collections. Over time, though, I divested myself of many of those books and kept only a collection of essentials. I used the library more and went to the bookstore less, and then I bought the Nook.  As far as I can remember, I have only read three print books in the last 4 or 5 years:  We Were Liars because I got an advanced copy, and I love E. Lockhart so much I was willing to read it in print; another because I couldn’t get it as an e-book; and the third, Go Set a Watchman, because it seemed like a book I should own in print. In the bookstore, though, I wanted to buy everything. I had forgotten how intoxicating the displays are in person – like wandering through my Pinterest reading lists in 3-D.  The covers, the colors, the book designs, the title fonts – all of it is fascinating and enticing.  I’m a librarian, for Pete’s sake. I’m around print books all the time.  So what is it about being in a bookstore that makes me want to own everything I see? Why don’t I feel that same emotional, visceral response to books when I’m in a library or browsing OverDrive and Goodreads?

We left the store with two gift books plus a book for my daughter and a book for my husband; nothing for me.  I told myself that it didn’t make sense for me to buy print when I really read better on my Nook, but I was a little sad thinking about it afterwards.  Has my reading life become more workmanlike than pleasurable?  Am I only happy with the Nook because it helps me read more? It’s any librarian/bibliophile’s fact of life that there are always books in a stack by your bed, or, in my case, on my “Want to Read” shelf on Goodreads.  Have I latched on to the Nook because it helps me get through that pile faster? I enjoy books when I’m reading on my Nook, but now that I’m being reflective, I realize that I may not be as connected to the things I read as I once was.  Truthfully, the only way I remember the titles of a lot of the books I’ve read is by looking at my Nook library or on my “Read” shelf on Goodreads.  Age jokes aside, am I plowing through my “stack” so quickly that I’m missing out on something?  Forgetting the visual and kinesthetic connections that looking at a real cover and turning physical pages provides?

I’ve been wondering whether I ought to institute for myself a “slow reading” movement akin to the global slow food movement.  According to their website, the Slow Food organization was started to “…prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.”  I love farmer’s markets and farm-to-table dinners – being able to see where your food comes from, having a visual memory of a place and time to go along with the sensory memory of the food.  Maybe the bookstore is like the literary version of a farmer’s market.  Even though it’s harder for me to read print books, maybe the slower pace would help me savor them more, know them more, connect with them more so that I feel like my reading self again.  I guess we’ll see how my garden grows, and maybe we’ll be spending a lot more date nights at the bookstore.

Cheri Dobbs is beginning her 21st year as the Middle School Librarian for Detroit Country Day School in Beverly Hills, MI, where she is also the PreK – 12 Coordinator of Library Services and a coach for the FIRST LEGO League team.  Her favorite books always involve orphans or boarding school or England, and if there’s a book about an English orphan at boarding school, that’s even better.  She tweets as @CheriDobbs.