One of the best things about a bookshop is the people which flit in and out. It’s been one of my favourite things working there over the years; watching people. It may seem like browsing is one of the dullest things ever to witness, but it isn’t. I don’t mean the ‘coming in from the rain’ browsing, or the “I’ve forgotten if du Maurier’s under D or M” (*abashed literate chuckle*) browsing, or the blank-brained browsing of people who dare to ask where Non-Fiction is (“Which particular ‘bit’ of Non-Fiction, you cretin?”, we never say, but want to).
But true browsing, when you catch that rare moment of someone’s blankness – not in a stupid way – but a ‘being open to anything’ way. Clean white page people. Grazing the shelves with the thing children feel in the guppy-mouthed moments that come just a split second before wonder. The wonder bit before wonder – so small it’s almost nothing, but so great the possibility of it washing over you. True browsers go with it and almost don’t see the books anymore. Rubbish browsers read blurbs and think it’s just a book with one story. And put the books back in the wrong sodding place.
True browsing, with the mind, can achieve an almost transcendental quality. True browsers can levitate around a bookshop and exit without even realising they’ve been in. True browsers can traverse time and space and science and regret. True browsers can forget. Browsing is almost Buddhist. Where does the browser’s mind go? If they’re doing it right they don’t know. It’s almost more apt that these tinkers almost never buy anything, because they couldn’t choose from it all, because they almost weren’t there.
There are words in all those books, you know. Sleeping words, which spring awake when you open the pages. Thousands of words in thousands of books, which means millions of words, which is officially a lot. I’ve stayed at the shop for almost a decade for those words. For all the ideas I will never grasp, and questions I’ll probably never think to ask. For all the hard work that other people have put into stuff. For the comfort in knowing that better people have done all this living for us. For the comfort of knowing some things (like love) last, and some things (like slavery, and the Spice Girls) pass. For all the wonderful things I will never find time to do, for all the things it will never occur to me to think about, like fishing and flying and finding mushrooms in your garden and furniture and philosophy and frogs and being found and fog and freedom and finance. And Fleetwood Mac. And that’s just the Fs (and one Ph). It is all in there. And what isn’t can be ordered, if you have the ISBN – and do bring the ISBN because we don’t want to do too much work, because we booksellers have very important things to do – like drink tea, draw on windows, and read Danielle Steele passages in a Polish accent to each other while wearing hats made from elastic bands.
I have always felt like a tiny bug that crawled into the centre of a rosebud, being in my bookshop.
That’s why leaving it will be hard. I expect I will feel very sad and uncertain and a bit scared. But I will also feel that strange uplift of air you feel around you, the sense of possibility, of newness, of future, of the blank white pages of life, when you open your wings to fly.