August 3rd, 2012

Saiun - technicolor Reishin

100 Things #007: a lament for Fremont's bookstores

Reading led to writing, for me. After reading stories I wanted to write my own. The most obvious consequence of this was fan fiction; whenever I like something enough, I want to write about it, and if what I like happens to be someone else's story, that's my (mis)fortune. I mentioned in the last entry that I used to write blatant ripoffs when I was twelve or so, and that was the first form this habit took - things I thought were original, but of course were not. After that came the age of cliches, so to speak: I copied all the genre cliches I was familiar with (in this case fantasy and space opera), because what ultimately rendered me able to write in the first place was reading. What I know of grammar, I absorbed through reading. What I know about plot or character, or what makes a good fantasy story, I absorbed from reading.

Reading was difficult for me for a variety of reasons when I was young. It costs money if you want to buy your books (we were poor), or takes a good library if you want to borrow them (Cathedral City Public Library sucked horribly for the first ten years or so of my life in that area), and I had neither. I thought I was rich if I got $2 for my allowance until I met friends in middle school who got as much as $20. (Twenty bucks? When you're ten? :/) But my mother believed in reading and getting kids to read, so when we had extra, she took me to the bookstore and I grabbed books: The Baby-Sitter's Club, Nancy Drew, and sometimes Sweet Valley High when I was younger, maybe third or fifth grade; modern fantasy when I was in middle school, because by then our little Waldenbooks had run out of young adult fiction and I had to move on to adult books. I started with the Xanth series, never got into Sword of Shannara, and started in on the David Eddings books. The bookstore became my favorite place. I used to haunt Waldenbooks for the next Robert Jordan book (I had to wait for those to come out in paperback too, ugh), and when we finally got a Barnes&Noble - a tiny one not much bigger than the Waldenbooks in the mall - I wanted to go there practically every day to either buy a book or just look at them, and be around them.

Without books, I'm not sure I would've learned to write fiction. I don't think I'm one of those writers with the mysterious "spark" Ursula K. LeGuin spoke of, or the kind of person who has a lot to say and absolutely must say it; my urge to write always comes out of the desire to go, "hey, look at this awesome thing I love, don't you love it too?" Or, "look at this new idea I had about how to interpret the book," and I think I might've been better suited to the English major, to just reading and not writing. I came up with stories when I was a kid, just like everyone, but deciding to pick up this skill and try to use it to make my own? I'm not sure why I did that. I can't say it would've happened anyway, without so much exposure to books, because I'm not sure what made me do it to begin with.

When our Borders closed its doors, I was pretty down about it. My hangout place of choice is always a bookstore. I love browsing, reading, finding new books. I love talking about them, speculating about them. I like holding them in my hands. The store had a nice open floorplan, too, and nice chairs, and I liked the staff at the cafe. Why wouldn't I go there and spend money? But they closed, and we thought, at least we've still got Barnse&Noble across the street - a big one, too.

Then Barnes&Noble closed their Fremont location a month later, and we were left with nothing but a tiny used bookstore - which is awesome, by the way, but it's not quite the same. I can't go there for new releases, or to browse what's new; nothing is new, really, unless you're lucky. I buy stuff there all the time, but having this as my only option is slightly disappointing. And Fremont's library, while nice, has two flaws: increasingly short and inaccessible hours, and it frankly has nothing on my university library anyway. I'd go there if I could, but that's a $14 round trip. I'm not poor anymore, but I still can't buy $14 train tickets like candy.

This week the used bookstore closed to move to a new building. Without a bookstore to visit within a half-hour drive or more, I realized that browsing books is a form of inspiration for me. You don't always have to read them to catch a snip of a good idea. Sometimes just knowing what's out there can give me a kickstart, and I'm not going to argue with retail therapy as a motivating factor in getting myself to work, either. I tend to scoff at people who shun ebooks because they don't have a tactile factor, but I will admit that's something special. Not necessary to make me want to read, maybe, but it's nice. And being able to pick up and fan the pages of a book, especially a book that isn't already mine and that happens to be shiny and new, that maybe has a sense of mystery to it precisely because it isn't mine, is a special sort of feeling that makes me want to create.

I miss that feeling. I want it back, but I don't think I'm going to get it.

The funny thing is, when I look back at what life was like before that Barnes&Noble moved into our city, I realize the demand to have a local bookstore (or two) is a little spoiled - maybe a little unrealistic. Most places probably can't support that many stores or books. How many people read as compulsively as I used to? Online it seems like everyone I know reads regularly, but most of the people I knew in real life didn't read at all. Even now, very few of my friends have apartments overflowing with books. (Maybe they just organize better? :D;)

I've always known that reading and writing hold hands, but until now I didn't realize how much I associated with simply holding and looking at books. I didn't know the little mystery of a book that isn't mine had such an impact on me. And I'm kinda not sure what I can do about it now than I do now. Continue to miss it, I guess.


Well, this settles it: my lifelong goal is clearly to have a huge private library that occasionally gets restocked when I'm not paying attention, so I can get that little thrill. We'll call this Lifelong Goal #2. And if the library is my house, or even most of my house, with a few square feet set aside to sleep on the floor, I'm okay with that.

Lifelong Goal #1 is, of course, to be my neighborhood's only crazy cat lady.