The Sunday Salon: A Reading Experiment

Sunday, June 26, 2011


The Sunday 
Salon.com

Last Sunday, when I whined about how much trouble it was deciding what book to buy, Laurel-Rain Snow mentioned that when she goes to a bookstore, she usually tries to have a book in her bag, which she then reads in the attached cafe. That got me thinking about my reading preferences in bookstores. I do like to a read a little something during my visits to a brick and mortar bookstore, but I never really thought about what I read.

I usually like to treat in-store reading as a kind of sampling. Pick a random book that I've been curious about or which someone recommended to me, walk over to the cafe, and, sometimes over coffee, read a few pages of the book. This has helped me decide about quite a few books that I wasn't sure about - Some have raced to the top of my wishlist, some never get into my TBR even. Besides, it's such a serendipitous experience - something I feel lacking in my reading every once in a while, with all the lists I've made months in advance.

But reading Laurel's comment made me realize that I can also read any of the books that I have at home. I do know that many times I carry at least an ebook with me to a bookstore, but I don't think I've ever made a conscious attempt to read one.

Not a picture I took, though it may well have been.
(Picture source)
So, on Friday, dressed all summery and ready with my copy of Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, I headed to my local B&N. The first thing I noticed was that it was too quiet in there. There was barely a soul in. Oh, who am I kidding! It was a Friday evening and why would anyone hang around in a bookstore, when there are rock concerts, parties and bars to hang out at! Anyways, I conveniently had a headache, so I grabbed a cup of yummy cafe au lait, and plonked myself on a table from where I had a great vantage point of almost all other tables and most of the people. Which is the kind of seat I always look for. Isn't reading a social experience after all?

I opened up my book and thumbed over to page 68. Ann Patchett's beautiful prose was gripping. I took a moment to remember what happened up to that page, where the protagonist was, and oh, that guy in front of me is reading Jane Eyre! Man, I should ask him what he thinks of it - I don't know many guys who like Jane Eyre! Anyways, back to my book. Page 68.

(Picture source)
And so I resumed my reading. One paragraph over. I look to my right at all the books sitting on the stacks over there, wondering if any of those would look good on my bookshelf. You know, it's all about architecture and style. I am almost certain that some of those would look good at my apartment better than in a bookstore. Should I...? No, I came here to read my book and I better read it. Right.

And so I keep reading. Ann Patchett's writing is really beautiful, except you know, it's not a "beach read'. It's not a book you can take with you in public and read in the middle of distractions. It's something you should read in your home at a fireside, or in your recliner. Not in the patio. Not in front of the TV. Not with screaming kids or distracting chores. Not in the airport. And definitely not in a bookstore. Unless you have uber-concentration powers!

But still, I kept reading. Some guy chooses that moment to walk in front of me with a nice looking book whose title is covered. I just had to know what that book was. I don't find out. And moments later, he walks in front of the Relationships section. I promise I wasn't curious. I continue reading. But, it's actually getting cold in here. Wonder if that has something to do with the less number of humans around. Two hours later, I start feeling hungry and decide to head home. Just before closing my book, I saw that I was on page 98.

30 pages in two hours, of a book that's actually beautiful. What a bummer. Though it's thanks to a poor choice of book. But most likely, I forgot to at least "visit" the other books before heading to the cafe - that usually satisfies the bookish me and lets me focus on what I chose to read. Or the fact that not knowing much about the book I'm reading helps me focus on it better than when I am already some part into it - very comfortable with the author and the writing style. Oh, whatever.

38 comments:

Amy Mckie said...

How interesting. A friend and I visited our local Indigo (Canada version of Borders or B&N) today and the sign at the cafe actually says that you can't take unpurchased books in. I suppose because of the risk of damage? I mostly like to people watch and see what others are reading in those types of environments though :)

Athira / Aths said...

I always found it funny that some of these stores (at least B&N) insist on no outside food into the store, but I can easily walk in with my store-purchased coffee into the aisles. What's up with that?? 

carol - DizzyC said...

I did enjoy your description of your visit to the bookstore.
Here in my part of the world bookshops with coffee shops are thin on the ground.  In fact, I have not visited one, but sure there must be some. 

I tend to crane my neck to see what others are reading in a waiting room.  Once there was a long hospital corridor full of people waiting for appointments.  I was walking down that corridor checking out every book as I went.  :)

carol

Patti Smith said...

Since I have my Nook and Kindle synced with my Blackberry, I always have an ebook in the bookstore as well.  Generally after I'm done looking and have a cup of coffee or tea, I sit down in some quiet corner and read.  A few times though, and usually if I'm waiting on someone else, I've grabbed a shelf copy of whatever I'm reading at home and curl up ;) 

Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Ha-Ha...glad my technique kept you from buying more books, Aths...and you're right.  The "social" part of the reading in B & N does tend to distract.  I do want to read State of Wonder, though, and I'm pretty sure that it is the kind of book you should read in a place free from distractions.

Thanks for sharing....

Here's my "reading slump" week at

MY SUNDAY SALON POST

hcmurdoch said...

Too funny! I love the running commentary of what you were thinking while trying to read a serious book in a B&N! I agree, in a place full of distraction you need a simpler read. I hope you went home and sat on your comfy couch to give Ann Patchett some real attention

zibilee said...

I also have a problem with letting my attention wander at the bookstore. It mostly happens when I am "interviewing" books to take home with me, which can be a problem. I found this post to be really funny what with all the observations that you were making while trying to read. I do admire the way that you restrained yourself with the purchasing of new books though!

Nadia Anguiano said...

Aths, loved this post! It was fun to read about your experience at B&N. I used to love going to B&N to study or read - when really all I did was drink coffee and people watch. Now I do that at the Bucks. And I'm reading State of Wonder, too - so, I can definitely agree that its not a great book to get lost into at B&N. 

Alex said...

I'd also be curious about what the guy thought about Jane Eyre. I don't think any male-friends of mine ever read it...

Monique Howard said...

I've never gone to a bookstore to read.  Mostly, when I go I go to buy books or at least look at them.  When I want to read, I either stay home, go to the beach or Starbucks.  I know some B&N have Starbucks but I think all the books their would be a distraction.  

Athira / Aths said...

I know the craning part - I do that so often. If I see a book in someone's hands, I feel like I've met a fellow cult member or something (not that I've ever been in cults). And that's one reason I love the New York subway - so many books abound! I hope you get to see more stores with tea/coffee shops. You don't need one more way to spend your money in a bookstore but they can be delights too.

Athira / Aths said...

That sounds great, Patti! I need to go to the bookstore often - maybe that will help with my focus better. It's just such a haven!

Athira / Aths said...

Well yeah, your technique surely helped me keep off buying books, which is a truly good thing! Thanks for sharing that last time. :) Bookstores are like another social website - just too many distractions.

Athira / Aths said...

In my commentary, I also wanted to say how I was wondering about that lone elderly man reading a book at a table beside a woman's handbag and thinking where his companion was, and about that lady behind me who was talking some sweet things with her daughter and how I found myself relaxing into her rhythmic tenor. Too many distractions! But I did have a good reading spell after!

Athira / Aths said...

I love that you are interviewing books to take home! You are giving me ideas now. :) I'm pretty surprised too that I didn't buy a book eventually, so maybe the plan did work even if I didn't get much reading done.

Athira / Aths said...

Haha - that's all I ever do at coffee shops and bookstores. Drink a lot of coffee and pretend to do something very big, when I'm actually people watching and thinking silly things. Some of life's greatest pleasures. :)

Athira / Aths said...

I know right? I was itching to ask him. It was an almost funny feeling seeing that book in a guy's hands. 

Athira / Aths said...

Yeah - it's like going to a candy store and wondering which one to buy when you can just have one. You're reading a book, but a book on the stand always looks so much better.

Bibliophilebythesea said...

LOL ...sounds like you know how to entertain yourself at a B&N. I laughed as I read this post.

BTW...can't wait to read State of Wonder.

Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness said...

Fun experiment! I've only read in bookstores a couple of times, and it's usually with books I already have. I love to people watch, so I find it distracting; same thing with coffee shops. I bet looking at books before settling in to read is a good thing!

Wallace said...

First of all, a bookstore on a Friday night beats any club, bar, or concert I can think of. :) Second, I'm the same as you. There is no way I would get any reading done in an environment like that. What I do is spend a good hour combing through the racks, then cop-a-squat in a chair or at the cafe and look through/read parts of all the books I've been carrying around with me. If I'm with a friend, we'll take turns guarding the table as the other one goes back into the "trenches" for more!

Wallace said...

First of all, a bookstore on a Friday night beats any club, bar, or concert I can think of. :) Second, I'm the same as you. There is no way I would get any reading done in an environment like that. What I do is spend a good hour combing through the racks, then cop-a-squat in a chair or at the cafe and look through/read parts of all the books I've been carrying around with me. If I'm with a friend, we'll take turns guarding the table as the other one goes back into the "trenches" for more!

Misha said...

I agree with Wallace. A bookstore beats parties or concerts! I find it very distracting to read in bookstores, especially with people talking. Like you, I am always curious about knowing what the other person is reading. I loved this post, btw - it's always nice to know about others' bookish experiences.

Amy Mckie said...

LOL that is a very very good question... 

Tina Reed said...

I cannot read anything in a bookstore. While there, I am all about finding my next read. I usually browse the aisles and plop myself down on the floor with a book that catches my interest. I'll read the cover blurb and the opening paragraph but that's usually all I need to decide whether or not to buy it.

BTW, Friday night at a bookstore sounds like pure fun to me. I suppose all book bloggers would agree :)

Athira / Aths said...

People-watching is certainly so much fun at B&N! :)

Athira / Aths said...

I somehow think I won't ever be able to read books I already have in bookstores now. Maybe I'll return to sampling them! But yeah, looking at books before settling in to read is a good idea!

Athira / Aths said...

You are so right - I love hanging around at bookstores on a Friday. The perfect way to spend time! I love to pick books at random and settle in to read them at a cafe - so many choices!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! I certainly spend more time looking at other people's books than mine at a bookstore.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree - Friday night at a bookstore is the best thing! For me, reading in bookstores is a hit or miss. Mostly, I spend the time people-watching.

Ash said...

Sounds about right. I always have grand plans of reading in public but it never works very well for me. Especially not in a store. 

Erin said...

I'm really terrible at reading in places where there are fun things to watch! I have the same experience in coffee shops, where there aren't even books to distract me. Even in airports, I love to people-watch and see what everyone else is reading. Oh well. Hey, 30 pages is better than nothing, right?

Athira / Aths said...

I agree! I doubt I can make myself read in a bookstore anymore. I can try out several books, but not actually sit and read.

Athira / Aths said...

I have to agree people-watching is so much fun. Esp watching other people read. If I could read through them, I could at least say that I read a lot of books in airports/coffee shops/bookstores.

Juju@TalesofWhimsy.com said...

I'm a book slut. I cheat on my books when I go in bookstores. ;)

Athira / Aths said...

LOL! I can understand that!

Karen said...

I've never taken a physical book with me to a coffee shop but I bet my experience would be similar to yours. I have a terrible tendency just to want to buy books even when I know I have way more already at home than I can possibly get through in the next five years.

Athira / Aths said...

There is just something about looking at all those racks of books in a bookstore that makes you want to take as many home with you as you can. As if they are all waiting to be adopted!