Is there anything quite like entering the sweet atmosphere of a book store, breathing in the intoxicating aroma of volumes of pages and getting lost between the shelves of a thousand stories? These labyrinthine worlds of spellbinding adventure, magic, truth and illogic have existed for centuries, housing everything from leather-bound collector’s editions of Shakespeare to tattered paperback copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Hours upon hours can be spent perusing the shelves of a book store, fruitfully in search of a good story within which to disappear from the mind-numbing inanity of everyday life.
Book shopping is not just about finding and purchasing a wad of paper; it’s an experience for all the senses. The smells, colours, quiet sounds of page-turning and textures of leather binding beneath fingers all combine to form the most delicious literary cocktail. Between this borderline magical experience and the economical convenience of online book shopping, there is a gargantuan difference. From the opening chapter of the internet shopping craze, whether it be for clothing, groceries or books, I’ve felt a sense of unease. Sure, you can browse Amazon while in your pyjamas or find the lowest of low prices when hunting for shoes online, but is there not a feeling of loss when you reminisce about the good old days of takeaway coffee cups, dressing rooms and wandering from store to store with a gaggle of friends? I can bare to bid goodbye to these little things, I suppose, but when it comes to the whole-body book shopping experience, the world wide web simply cannot compete.
However (yes, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve actually developed a ‘however’ on this topic) …there are certain perks to being savvy with a search engine. While I will never, ever, ever abandon the beloved book store, I must confess to having indulged my bibliophilic obsessions from the comfort of my couch. You cannot stroke the binding or inhale the scent of the pages but you sure as hell can bag a bargain and not only that, but you can also track down books whose out-of-print status or inexplicable unpopularity find it absent from the majority of book store shelves. Yes, the seemingly bland and impersonal worlds of Amazon, Fishpond and eBay actually have a handful of advantages to tempt even the most devoted anti-internet shopper.
The other day, while housebound due to my current lack of license and my family’s commitment to their prearranged plans, I took a guilty trip from Google to Fishpond (Australia’s version of Amazon) and found my mind boggled and my breath taken by the sheer volume and variety of books, music and movies on offer. From books of unparalleled obscurity to those of the New York Time’s best seller list, Fishpond had it all. I felt like a little kid in a candy store, seduced by the promises of sweet happiness and excitement, and in spite of myself, I filled a virtual basket with my first ever web purchases. A little behind the times, I may seem, but you have to understand what a betrayal of my beliefs this little experience was.
I didn’t fully appreciate the wonder of online book shopping (partially due to my guilt and partially due to the whole experience being impersonal and cold) until yesterday. ‘Hello post man! Oh, you come bearing gifts?’ Yes, yesterday marked the arrival of one of my purchases and although I wasn’t actually present when the mail arrived, coming home to a brand-spanking-new book wrapped in brown paper on my door step was a wonderful experience. It was like sending myself a gift of the very best kind (the literary kind) which was exhilaratingly naughty and gloriously fruitful. Unwrapping the package to find a beautiful copy of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’, by John Le Carre, felt like Christmas in January, albeit a gift debited from my own bank account, and served to open my mind just a fraction more to the benefits of virtual book buying.
So, while nothing will ever compare to the holistic book store experience, I can say from personal experience that if, once in a while, you find yourself in need of Amazon of Fishpond, you will get a nerdy little kick out of having books delivered to your door! There is something particularly satisfying about sending yourself a little literary gift.