• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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When You’re Sure You’ve Had Enough

Today I had an attack. This is when I walk by a bookstore and can’t go it. Can’t. Go. In. I know that if I see the front table offerings, all the books beautifully stacked in their best back to school clothes, and the darling shelf talkers with their lovely cursive print, and the shelves with their gorgeous mosaic of spines, and the carousel of Moleskins,  I know that if see all of that and smell the coffee brewing and overhear a couple talking about Larry Shteyngart that I will feel myself fall from a great height and there will be no sound and the light, of course, will be diffuse, and later I will be sitting beneath an elm tree wishing I had a sweater, my copy of All My Pretty Ones worn, and the jacket, black and violet, an exquisite bruise about to yellow.

Does this ever happen to you?

44 Responses

  1. Yes I just spent a week in London doing just that. Guiltlessly.

  2. All the time. Bookstores, my fatal weakness. All the books, so pretty, and I can only have so many, because where would I put them all? And then my book, which showed up on Amazon today, and not in a bookstore, but it’s pretty too, even if it’s not in a bookstore. But it’s probably a good thing it’s not, because I might have an attack myself if I saw it anywhere.

  3. I’m not so bad with bookstores, but every time I take one book back to the library I borrow two more. Mathematically you could see how this rapidly becomes untenable.

    • Ha! Yes, this is my habit, too. I have cards at two libraries and my habit is like this: borrow 3, return 2, borrow 4 more and then a few days later borrow 3 from the other library. I try to stick to no more than two fiction at a time, though. Multiple non-fiction I can read simultaneously, not so much with fiction.

  4. I get overwhelmed in bookstores. I buy books I’ve encountered previously, serendipitously, elsewhere. Book shopping, for me, is like perusing the personals vs meeting cute.

    The feeling you describe I can only recall with specificity once, when I first discovered Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short story collection, A FRIEND OF KAFKA’S. I was seventeen, in an unfamiliar library I encountered while tooling around dodgy neighborhoods in my two-tone candy-apple and silver ’76 Camaro. I sat in that musty building and cracked open the door, and myself, to another world. Nobody told us about Kafka in my Catholic girls’ school, what to speak of the Jewish diaspora, but Singer brought them both alive for me.

  5. Bookstores began causing me extreme pains about 10 years ago. It ebbs, it flows, and sometimes hits me like a tsunami. Christmas time is exceptionally bad. Because I love books, I wish it didn’t happen. I blame these emotions on those ugly little stunted people living under my stairs.

  6. No, never I always go in. I was born to browse.

    • Me, too. Born to browse. The only bookstores that might overwhelm me (after an hour or so, and if I’m starving) are Powells & The Strand. Other than that, wave me in.

  7. Bookstore Dialysis.
    Hook me up.

  8. last night i dreamed i was having a heart-to-heart with steven tyler, trying to convince him that i could be a sober, recovering alcoholic who smokes weed. “it’s different. i’m not drinking. i can get high and never drink again.” he just laughed and laughed and laughed. for some reason i’m tying you not-going-in-the-bookstore to my wanting-to-get-high-but remain sober.

    they’re totally the same, right?

  9. Oh wow, what a fantastic sensory strong picture you paint! And yes, it does happen to me. I confess though that my wink link is the giving myself permission to sit and read, until I’m satisfied, or needing a sweater.

    Why is it that reading seems to have become a luxury?

  10. You have to be careful of bookstores. They can fool you. When I was a little girl there was a Christian Science “Reading Room” that never had Nancy Drew or anything good.

  11. I’m surrounded by books all day, so one would think I’d be immune—but occasionally I still get the shakes and have to tell myself not to go near the New Fiction shelves until my ears stop buzzing . . .

  12. I guess, for me, seeing all those gorgeous published books, it’s like watching someone you love have a beautiful, whole, and happy relationship–with someone else. AND that someone else is better looking than you.

    I’m. just. so. happy. for. them.

  13. Oh Betsy, thank you for that nod to Sexton! And thank you for this blog. I’m a new-ish agent and have been reading your blog for years, inspired by your love for the publishing world, warts and all.

  14. Yes, a bookstore feeds the senses like downloading for my Nook never will. Did I read or imagine that when the printing press spelled doom for illuminated manuscripts people were lined up to go off the bridges?

  15. Two weekends ago, we had a heavy rain and I spent the morning outside weeding, the roots slipping right out of the ground. My daughter, she’s 12, came outside of her own volition (?!) and spent hours helping me. When we were done (if you’re a gardener you’ll see the humor in that statement), I thanked her and told her I’d buy her a book for all of her help, because I didn’t have to ask her for it.
    We went, she headed right to the section and got the newest in a series she was reading. It took 2.5 seconds. My family, all 5 of us didn’t get out of there for another 2 hours despite her knowing just what she wanted.
    All of this is to say, we’re bookstore people. We just are.

  16. I have to drive almost an hour to even SEE a bookstore, much less walk into one…I live in a really small town. If only I could walk into a bookstore when I wanted…if only.

  17. Inside. The proprietor, old Mr. Tolstoy, greeted me politely with a nod. “Miss Karenina,” he said pleasantly, no trace of dread in his voice. Nearby, Faulkner spoke to Johnny Steinbeck and Mr. Pynchon with all the Sound and Fury of a whisper, the subject real estate and land East of Eden, just past Gravity’s Rainbow. Tom McGuane saw a piano and bushwhacked it. Olive Kitteridge scolded him, concerned that he had that much anger, and McGuane skulked off like it was 92 in the Shade. Virginia Woolf, Annie Proulx, Gertrude Stein and Joyce Carol Oates sat eating brownies and drinking coffee, slowly. Someone dropped their cup and Jhumpa Lahiri jumped when the ceramic mug met Unaccustomed Earth. Dr. Seuss and a companion were over by the colorful, slim volumes for children. He smiled and said, “This is Ned. Ned is a Zed. He changes from blue to red.” And so I sat and read.

  18. Yes. But I’m a wussie so when it happens to me I weep.

  19. I prefer a library. I love walking in and thinking, All this is MINE.

    • I share that thought! Our neighborhood library just reopened (almost 6.5 years after the date of H.Katrina). As I stood among the crowd at the ribbon cutting ceremony, I noticed I wasn’t the only person crying.

      The only small surprise with this new building is that all the library tables are equipped with computers, leaving little space for “just” reading. Thankfully the new upholstered chairs provide a nicer alternative.

    • Without public libraries this ill born girl would be illiterate.

    • Take Lyra’s comment about bookstores. That’s what it’s like to go to the library with me. It’s an hour long visit. At least.

    • Yes, Averil, that’s why bookstores overwhelm me—I want them ALL. Even the special interest magazines about tattoos (I have none, but there we go with the vicarious experience thing again).

  20. I’m in a career slump, so bookstores cause me anxiety attacks. Instead I like to stare at Book Depository’s live feed and watch what people are purchasing world wide. http://www.bookdepository.com/live

  21. Yesterday, I walked into one of our local bookstores confident I could select a gift for a favorite young friend. Silly me! A sensation of vertigo combined with a loss of clear thinking left me staring down the depth of the store. The owner, a friend, gently asked if I was looking for something in particular. I’m not quite sure what I said, but her smile was sympathetic. Later, with several books (one WAS that gift) and a cleverly packaged origami project for my nephew tucked into the store’s bag, I stumbled outside, Chirping birds and the distant drone of whatever is done at the wharves lulled me back to reality. Thankfully, I remembered where I parked my car.

  22. Hell no, this has never ever happened to me, and I was so panicked when I read this post that I went immediately to the Barnes and Noble site to make sure the ONE bookstore back in my hometown is still there and open for business and that its still holding its place kitty-corner from the worn-out motel I sleep in and next door to the Olive Garden which is the ONLY place you can get a decent fucking dirty martini (or 3).

    This B&N — and god how I hate hate hate the way they organize their stores — is a blessing of a home base when I’m 4 days there and its 3 days too long. What in the hell will I do when its gone?

  23. Yes.

  24. The worst was when “my” Borders had to give up the ghost. I visited regularly as they sold off their stock, but the last visit was desperately sad. Poor odd remaining books on empty shelves, things no one wanted, not even at 80% off. I took home a few, it seemed like the least I could do.

    • I hate to admit I “cleaned-up” when the Borders closed near my home. Apparently sewing wasn’t a popular genre at that location: I got w-a-y too many books on tailoring and decorative stitching. The magazines were also marked down – giving me no reason not to splurge on those lovely woodworking, travel and gardening issues. I miss that bookstore chain, but the household budget isn’t complaining.

  25. Yes, this happens to me all the time. WH Smith and Shakespeare and co. in Paris, I could die in the aisle, covered in excrement and be happy.

  26. My wife now refuses/knows better than to go into a bookstore with me. She likes the bookstore, but she’s never truly bonded with it.

    “I thought you weren’t going to buy any new books until you read all the ones you already have,” she says whenever I come home with a new one. Or, when I used to try to take her to the bookstore, “You’ll be in there for like, two hours, and sometimes you don’t even buy anything. You just walk around.” And I think, what else would you do in a bookstore?

    I guess it’s better that I go alone.

    I could bring her home to mom, but my bookstore would just never understand her.

  27. I have these attacks all the time, even if it’s on-line. I can’t just go and look around at Amazon without filling my cart.

  28. I want to see my book published. I want to walk by a store and see my words, my emotions poured out on paper, wrapped in a simple, plain, and striking cover.

    I’m okay with feeling this way. I’ve earned it.

    Help make it happen.

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