Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Opportunity in Limited Selection

I subscribe to Shelf Awareness. This morning, their quote of the day was from Paul Krugman, with a link to his recent discussion of science fiction. Mr. Krugman said:

As I’ve often said, you can shop online and find whatever you’re looking for, but bookstores are where you find what you weren’t looking for.

For me, this is absolutely true. I’m not saying that I don’t go to buy a book on the internet and, two hours later, look at the clock and realize that the internet gremlins grabbed hold of my mind. ‘Cause that happens far too frequently. The sheer limitlessness of option is overwhelming. It's wonderful and reminds me that there are still millions of books out there that I've yet to read. Which is always a nice thought. But as I traverse further into that labyrinth of choice, sometimes it's more than my mind can process. My eyes glaze over. There may or may not be some drool. 

Basically, I become a zombified version of myself, grunting things like "Book" or "Read" or "Brains." When I finally pull myself out of this, I often end up getting exactly what I'd planned on. Or something strikingly similar. So, not really a tool I use to broaden my horizons, as far as book buying goes. But stick me in a bookstore and who knows what I’ll end up with.

Sure, I’ll initially walk straight towards whatever section holds the book I came in for. But on the way, there are so many tables of other books. It’s a mental impossibility for me to walk past without out at least giving them a short look. And then after I finally get to what I came in there for, all the other rows beckon me to explore. When it comes time for me to leave, I nearly always find my shopping bag heavier and my wallet lighter than I expected going in.

However, even more so than regular bookstores, I find that the place where I discover the most new fiction is the airport. Even though I always travel with a book, I try to pick one up when I’m getting ready to fly. For one, you never know if your flight is going to be delayed for umpteen hours. But also, I know that frequently whatever I get at the airport is not something that I would have bought otherwise.

I think this has to do most with the limited selection. I don’t have the luxury of dancing through cyber waves with the internet gremlins or walking through dozens of rows of books. A lot of airports now have small bookstores, with limited shelves spread out in the narrow space. Or you can go to one of the other shops in the airport where they have one bookshelf next to all the Starbursts and Chex Mix you could want.

This is where I tend to go – and not only for the food (though that doesn’t hurt). But here among the thirty odd books displayed, I can always find something that sounds interesting. Authors I hadn’t yet heard of. Subject that I probably would not have read about if I had been distracted by the cornucopia of choices that a bookstore provides. On rare occasions, I end up with a story that I am not a big fan of. However, far more frequently, I find a new author to follow and a new world to love.

So, the next time you travel, I suggest checking these little nooks out. Even if you don’t read print books anymore, stop in and check out what they have. Make a note of what sounds interesting and go find it later. You may be opening yourself up to your favorite new stories.

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