Posted by: Monideepa Tarafdar | March 3, 2012

I went to Barnes and Noble

I went there after quite a while, actually. I had a fixed objective  – I wanted to buy the Dr. Spock book for my sister, who was pregnant. I was passing by anyway. Oh well, lets buy it from here. I knew exactly which bookshelf I wanted to go to and counted on spending no more than ten minutes in the store. On entering, among the first things I saw, as always – the bargain shelves. Meandering for five minutes cannot hurt, locating Dr. Spock will take no more than three minutes. And so it started. There was a book on the plays of Shakespeare and I suddenly smiled as I remembered Portia and Shylock and English classes in school and, ah yes, friends. Then one on yoga , and suddenly I saw my dad teaching me yoga poses when I was little, and mum helping me with homework, and I saw home. I serendipitously spotted a little book on various herbs and how to grow them, just the book I needed and had not been looking for. And I found it without the help of “customers who viewed this also viewed……”! I looked around – did I have fellow browsers? Were they also doing similar cartwheels in their mind? A young man and woman were standing close together, talking softly and looking at what seemed like a book of weddings. And I saw weddings, ceremonies, festivals, new clothes, food, gossip, fun, people.

The coffee shop was, surprisingly, quite crowded. People were talking, working on laptops, or just sitting and reading. Soft lamps. A piece of unhurried tranquility, to recharge and perhaps to recoup. To share and create stories. It looked so familiarly comfortable and inviting. I turned around to go toward the children’s section. A woman was reading to her two toddler children, the three of them embedded in the tale and its pictures. Frequent squeals of high-pitched delight and frantic gestures interspersed with soft grown up laughter, all of it cocooned safely away from the world. Love. A member of the staff asked me what I was looking for. He showed me similar books, and told me about his daughter who had just had a baby and what books he had given her. He spoke fondly, because she was his daughter of course, but I suspect as much so, because he liked to help people find the books they wanted as part of their lives, and in doing so, to become a little bit of their lives as well. Not a piece of data-mining and recommender-system code, but a human being. Through him, I too sort of felt connected to those people.

I chose a few books, stood in the checkout line, picked out a bookmark from one of the nearby racks for good measure, a physical bookmark, paid, and left. I had spent many more than ten minutes. And had witnessed and felt a not insignificant sweep of the everyday sagas that come our way, and which will never change, no matter where or how we buy our books. For, our books will always chronicle the yarns most precious and beloved to us., anyone?

Disclaimer: I love all sorts of bookstores – in airports, on cobbled streets, in the vast depths of the Internet, on the pavements of Calcutta and Ann Arbor. This piece is in no way a criticism of either bookstore mentioned, but a reflection on how we humans have so swiftly adapted to, and found traction with, the compelling power of electrons.



  1. Just to make sure: did you buy the Dr. Spock book finally? 😀

  2. Oh yes, I did. And a couple more too. Recommend-er systems, whether human or disembodied, have a way of making you spend more than you planned to. THAT hasn’t changed!

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