I try to go to the bookstore every week. Often I come home with at least one or two new books (my car is full of carrier bags and receipts), but mostly, I admit, I go there to read trashy celebrity magazines, curled up in a big, comfy armchair with a pile of magazines and a hot chocolate (winter) or iced tea (summer). Trying not to laugh at other people's conversations, trying not to catch their eye as they discuss intimate details of their life that I'd rather not hear. (When people are having a long conversation in a language they don't think you understand, what do you do? Pretend that you don't speak whatever language it is? Correct their grammar or provide a vocabulary word they don't know?).
I prowl up and down the aisles, looking for books I've always meant to read but never got around to, or just look for something to catch my eye, stop me in my tracks. I started doing this at the library when I was in high school, wandering slowly from the A's all the way through the Z's. In four years I read almost all the fiction they had. It was how I discovered new things, writers whose words I would slowly fall into, fall in love with. Now I buy books instead of borrowing them, which is financially ruinous, but as far as addictions go more beneficial than harmful. Usually I'm there for hours. Once I somehow spent five hours at the bookstore. When I left, the parking-lot attendant looked at me quizzically. I got here before you did, I said. I don't have a ticket. His eyebrow goes up. You were here for five hours? What were you doing? Buying books, I said. He laughed and waved me through. Now he says hello when I arrive, turning to greet me when he hears my music blasting through the open window.
My favorite bookstore in the world is Eslite, in Taipei. The original one. I spend hours there whenever I'm in town. There are always people sitting on steps, in aisles, leaning against shelves, blocking your path as you reach for a book, browsing, reading for hours. It is big but not huge, with a fantastically edited selection of English-language books. Nearly all of my favorite books were discovered there. Literature is not divided by fiction/non-fiction, but by nationality - American/British writers in one section, European writers organized by country. I found Calvino there, Kundera. I fell into essays that I would have otherwise passed by. Eco, whose fiction confused me, I discovered wrote so beautifully and clearly about literature and life I could only fall hopelessly in love.
I love libraries, but bookstores are different. On the one hand, libraries are free, and in a bookstore you have to, you know, actually buy the books. But on the other hand, you've bought it, it's yours. I have the insatiable need to own books. When I find I writer I love, I have to acquire everything he or she has written. Which is why books have taken over nearly every surface of my bedroom, my bathroom, and have made serious enroachments upon the kitchen. Some of them are brand-new, never read, just waiting for the right time for me to crack them open and dive in. Others are old, well-loved, falling apart, worn spots on the covers from being squashed in suitcases or at the bottom of a backpack. Sometimes I buy used books, with other people's names and notes, drawings inside. One even has an inscription and a little sketch, from 1937. But now they are mine.