Essay: On Bookstores and Plastic Chairs

Summer Farah, BFR Staff

Although online shopping is amazing, the thrill of finding something unexpected in a bookstore is unmatched by doing so off any Amazon recommendation.

This summer I utilized Barnes & Noble greatly as a daily hangout. It was the perfect spot; there was an endless amount of books to look through, the employees hardly spoke to you, you could spend hours in a corner undetected by anyone, and the connecting cafe had cheesecake if you got hungry. Cheesecake.

I loved discovering cool, new poetry and looking at the newest additions to Teen Literature, seeing all of the different editions of classics I said I would read but probably never will.

The “no sitting on the ground” rule was the only thing in my way.

Some people love to stand while they read, probably. I am not one of them. After I find a book to skim through, my body automatically drops directly onto the floor. Reading and sitting are directly connected—I cannot do one without the other. Barnes & Noble, however, tried to take that experience away from me, when they sent an employee down the aisle to tell me I was not allowed to sit on the ground. Being the good customer I am, I apologized and got up, keeping all frustrated thoughts to myself.

For a while, this rule discouraged me from spending too much time in the store. This is where they got the loiterers. You couldn’t comfortably spend too much time enjoying a book without paying for it.

I soon found a loophole: the children’s section.

Barnes & Noble had two sitting options: either you could sit in the café and risk spilling cheesecake on your precious purchase, or you could sit in a small plastic chair in the brightly decorated children’s section.

I chose the latter.

With a friend, I tested my bounds. We each grabbed a novel and made our way to the children’s section, took a seat, and began to read.

Reading in the children’s section is very different from reading on the ground in an isolated aisle. There is so much more stimulus, even if you ignore the glares of the employees who want to tell you to leave but don’t because technically there is nothing wrong with 18 year-olds reading picture books. The floor was a bright wood, there were shelves and shelves of toys, the promotional material was of gaudy design, and sometimes there were kids. While the isolated aisles that contained the material we brought into the children’s sections were calm and quiet—optimal for reading—the children’s section was distracting.

The shelves of the children’s section were an intense mix of nostalgia and intrigue. I found so many books from elementary school that I had loved and forgotten about or given away. Seeing them still prominent filled me with so much joy. Whatever new literature that was being cranked out was probably just as great, but I love A Series of Unfortunate Events, and it would be a shame for kids to not still be encouraged by their school librarians to read those books. Harry Potter was still front and center, with beautiful new cover designs. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was still growing strong. I wondered how old that kid must be today.

What caught my eye the most were the picture books. One book in particular: The Day the Crayons Quit.

I put down my big-kid chapter book, picked up the pretty, hardcover picture book, and got to reading.

One of the most healing experiences is unexpectedly finding a story that so completely and utterly fills you with joy. It’s been a rocky road the last few years, and I’ve sought out books that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with if I died while reading.

The Day the Crayons Quit was a masterpiece. It follows the correspondence of disgruntled crayons with their owner whom they believe has not been using them to their full potential. The illustrations combine a sketchy, kid’s-drawings-style with a more defined, cutesy “real object” style for the crayons and the letters.  

Reading this book set off a string of picking up picture books and seeing what the next generation was learning from. Just like when I was learning to read, some of them are beautiful and have deep messages about creativity. Some of them are just sort of silly.

I have always lost myself in books. The type of books changed as I got older, but they were always the cure. Even though I love the ease of online shopping, random findings are always more exciting than deliberate purchases. Amazon recommendations never would have introduced me to The Day the Crayons Quit, or the other magical mix of books I have found by loitering in Barnes & Noble.

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