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A Trip To The Bookstore - Short Story


 

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Introduction

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This piece originally started out as an op-ed piece, but then the short story began to unfold. Enjoy the story of a writer going to the bookstore.

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A Trip To The Bookstore - Short Story


The pandemic changed a lot of things in many of our lives, and without giving you my life story, I will say one particular habit that changed for me was attending Barnes and Noble bookstore.


In the late afternoon after work, I would go to the café, buy an iced beverage, decide on whether I wanted a snack, and then relax there, not when the pandemic happened. Cancel my order, put away my book, and give me a mask because, during the pandemic, you wouldn’t find me at Barnes and Noble.


Heading to the café as soon as I entered the store was a no-brainer since I could put down my laptop and bag and sit down. My job requires me to be on my feet for hours on end, so by the time I get to find a chair for my aching legs, it is much-needed rest for me, whether I have an iced beverage or not. I always buy myself an iced beverage, and I am upset with myself when I look at the receipt because I forgot about that coupon that I received last time when I purchased a book. I say last time as if it only happened once. It happens every time I buy an iced beverage. I will not go into details of what I order pertaining to the flavor or the style because they are all the same to me. Iced coffee, iced macchiato, iced cappuccino: I feel like the cafes have made the same drinks several times, altered them only slightly, and changed their names, and they have convinced people they are different drinks. They are all iced coffees; you are not fooling me!


I do not ask for no ice in my iced beverage, even though anyone who has accepted that item as their order quickly realizes that they got ice with coffee, not coffee with ice. This is a topic that I have discussed with many people, and we all agree that the cafes do this deliberately. “I ask for no ice when I get a soda!” One man told me as he tried to outthink the system. But, of course, I was ordering an iced coffee on my trip, so I had to get some ice in it. If I get no ice in it, then I am just getting regular coffee.


Whenever I receive the iced beverage, I often think of the missed opportunity I had with being clever, and as a writer being clever is basically all I am good for anyway. Without cleverness, a writer is nothing more than someone with too much time on their hands and a strange outlook on the world. When the barista asks for my name, I am unoriginal and tell them the truth. Instead, I should tell them the name of a historical figure. I could say that I am Philip the Second of Macedon or George Washington Carver. However, the idea of being controversial by inserting a name like Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin, doesn’t seem worth it to me. I am there to get an iced coffee, one that I am not even sure what it really is and that, for some reason, has too much ice; I am not particularly interested in getting a strange look by saying that I am Adolf Hitler. Plus, some may not find that funny at all.


The biggest problem I have at the café is the food selection. They are all really good but expensive, so I am always questioning whether I should have a brownie, some cheesecake, or a scone. The coffee is expensive the way it is, but going in all the time and getting ice with coffee and a cheesecake is too much for my wallet (and my waist). My job doesn’t pay that well. Thank god the pandemic stopped people from going to cafes, or else I’d be broke from all the ice with coffee I drink and the brownies/cheesecakes/scones I consume.


In this instance, I skipped out on the snack, avoided any commotion with my controversial name selection, and didn’t suggest the removal of ice in my iced coffee. I waited in line and ordered as if I had no issue with the place. Meanwhile, this was the first time I had been in the place in two years.


I thought of proposing to the barista that we have a ceremony for such an occasion. Perhaps we can have a parade, with balloons, and there can be a guy who throws a baton in the air and pretty ladies with nice hats, all celebrating my return to the café. There can be a band that plays a bunch of uplifting music, and you can have that guy who says, “Let’s get ready to…” (you know the line) (I am not sure if he is going to be next to the baton thrower or the ladies and if he is going to be stuck repeating the line for the whole parade) And there can be bagpipes, because what is a parade without bagpipes? It is nothing in my eyes but random delusional individuals prancing around as if they are celebrating something worthwhile. Yes, that is how high I put bagpipes in my parade preparation. (Don’t ruin the joke by asking if the bagpipes play over or with the band either!) You may see why I don’t always joke around with people because I am sure that the barista would look at me and say, “We don’t do parades.” Like I didn’t know that, and I am the incoherent blabbering idiot unaware of their non-parade throwing policy, not the one making the joke, to deal with an event that is insignificant to the speaker but meaningful to me.


Sometimes when I sit down at the table, I get work done, such as contacting clients who I don’t really want to talk to, writing articles that I don’t always want to write, and other business-related matters that are as boring to you as they are to me, so I will spare you the details of each email, phone call, and invoice I look over. I find that is stuff better to do at a time I never have and is best completed by someone not called me, so in this story, I am telling you, I avoided the responsible work that could benefit myself and others in favor of a more pleasant experience.


In my previous trips to the café before the pandemic, which may or may not have included a cheesecake and/or a brownie, I wrote a few poems on multiple occasions. I cannot tell you exactly what they were about, but for some reason, I wrote a poem about Conan O’Brien and Mario Kart and another poem about the older women sitting next to me. I think Conan O’Brien was playing Mario Kart, or maybe it was an analogy I was making. It is one of those ideas that makes sense in the story, but when I say it to you here, the idea seems pretty offbeat and irrelevant. The second poem was about older women sitting at the table next to me, discussing something that I forget now. Like the Conan/Mario Kart poem, it all made more sense when I was writing it, and when you read those poems, the unrelated topics flow for some reason. Not here, though. And yes, for those of you who are keeping track of the kinds of style in the free-verse that I wrote, the poems were of my stay at the bookstore. I wasn’t wandering off into another world like Dante, with Virgil on my side making remarks of the layers of Hell, and I certainly wasn’t speaking in rhyme as an Irish poet does of his homeland. Instead, I wrote about being in the café. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be there for a few years.

On a side note, perhaps I could say that my longing for my old days of staying at Barnes and Noble was akin to an Irish poet wishing to be in the green land of the fairy-filled, magical country. Sure, I am not rhyming about my experience here, and there were no magical creatures in the store, at least, none I could identify clearly, but I can’t help but point out the longing I have for a bookstore in a pre-pandemic world, is not that much different than an older Irish poet, wishing to be back in their homeland. I wanted to be in that bookstore. Can I go back to that? How do I go back to the past without actually traveling to it? Is there a way for my dreams to become a reality before me? I wanted to sit in the Barnes and Noble café with its ice with coffee, and its relaxing atmosphere, before the pandemic happened, and I was forced to leave, abandoning a place I find solitude in.


Life is fascinating in that instance since you never know how the future may perceive the history you recorded during a present that was not important to you. Did Melville know he was writing one of the greatest books of all time when he sat to write Moby Dick? Did he think of the influence his book would have not only on his own field but the world? I want to think that he did, but he probably didn’t and wrote the thing as he felt would help the story. When I wrote the nonsense poems, I didn’t know that they would define a different era in my writing life. But I digress…


Since my mind is limited with creativity most of the time I was in the store, I would wonder about the place more than any other action. This time back was no different. I abandoned any possible great verse of blue shells and Team Cocoa in favor of aisles of paperbacks and tables of hardcovers.


I didn’t walk around looking for anything. There was no book I wanted to read and was going out of my way to find. I have a large enough TBR pile; I don’t need to buy any more books that I won’t read. Instead, I was curious about what books people are reading. What books are on the tables that many walk by? Do I know of the author? Have I read the book? If I haven’t, would I buy the book?

As I have been away from writing on this blog longer than I care to admit, due to other obligations and priorities in my life, I found that I didn’t follow the field as much as when I was writing up articles here. I admit there is intimidation in the field of literature that I am not sure many in the field even know about. Many readers promote books they read and love, and they feel as if they are doing others a favor by presenting such works. They are talking to other literature lovers about books; what is not to love? But I also felt isolated from these people since they were not reading many books I would enjoy. I am not interested in what they are reading, yet they and others that follow them are talking about this book like it is the greatest thing ever. So what gives? Is literature creating a special class of readers who are pushing others to read what they are told to read, and if you don’t like that book, are you judged for it? The community says it is welcoming of any and all readers, but all I ever see are readers with too much time on their hands reading books that I wouldn’t want to read and then making me feel like I missed out on a great book, even though I am not sure that I did. I keep quiet on this matter, for it is not a fight worth fighting. If I am right in my assessment, I am only confronting those that wish not to see me anyway, and if I am wrong, I come across as a paranoid imbecile. I suspect more is going on here with the books being discussed, but I am not the one who will delve any more into it.


My negligence in the field is why I was picking up many books and reading the back covers… I am sorry. I misspoke there. I meant to say, “my negligence of the field is why I was picking up many books and not reading the back covers since many of them, to my surprise, didn’t have any.” I am being serious too. I must have picked up ten books from the tables in the middle of the store, and half of them had nothing about the book on the back, only praise from strangers and outlets that I may have heard of in passing but that their mention meant little to my wandering mind.


Contrary to what many may think, I don’t go around the bookstore as a writer, comparing and seeking validation for my career. I don’t imagine where my books would go or what they would look like on the book-filled shelves. Will my next book be by the door for all to see or on the new author’s shelf? How close will I be to a writer that I love, like King or Rowling? I never think any of that. I am merely a spectator taking in the scenes, not a participant in the games. I recall a video of a writer who cried when she saw her book in the bookstore that can better illustrate my point. Tears running down my face, the covering of my face with my shirt to hide the salty discharge are not actions you will ever see from me when my books are in the store. I’d ignore my book altogether, and if you even noticed me and thought that I was the writer of the book, I’d deny it. “Yeah, I get mistaken for that Greg guy all the time. No worries. He is quite a handsome fellow, though.” I am not crying over my book being in a bookstore. I don’t care how long I spent on the book.


I don’t walk around the bookstore as a clueless mindless heathen, unclear of what I like or where I am. I, of course, have certain preferences for books that catch my eye. Readers of my work will not be surprised by my genres, but I shall include them here anyway. I enjoy poetry, although not the modern Insta-poetry, as they call it since I prefer my poems to have more words than a few sentences. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not a man who cares much for the heartfelt, short poems that are designed as emotional triggers than any true expression of the English language. I often laugh at this poetry trend because as I try to make my poems longer in size and words, most are trying to cram together whatever they can into their two lines of high school-level vocabulary.


If I pass by, I make time to check out the philosophy and mythological parts of the bookstore. I find philosophy fascinating because although it is not always present and practical, it does stimulate my mind, which coincidentally, not much else in my life does. Philosophy as a topic scares many people, and many minds of many ages and intelligence shy away from the field for fear of not being understood, yet I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people question things in this very world. People like to talk philosophy as long as they don’t think it is philosophical. Once you tell people that they are thinking like a philosopher, they will look at you like they made a mistake. “Philosophy? No, I was only presenting a question in a deep manner while evaluating other possible situations. That’s not philosophy!”


Mythology intrigues me more than any other genre, not for its great tales, per se, but for its longevity. I am impressed that stories from dead civilizations have survived so that I, an amateur poet, who can’t decide on what snack to eat at the café, can read them or at least add them to my TBR. I often find myself asking if the mythological stories are, in fact, the best stories around since they have lasted longer than many. People will still know of Biblical and Greek myths long after the current best-seller is read, assuming that the best-seller is not a myth, of course. Homer will still be read long after I am dead, just like how he was read long before I was born.


I skipped that part of the store and found myself in the area of the store that no one dared approach: the poetry section.


I must say that I felt strange staring at the poetry section of the store. My small personal bookshelf at my home seemed larger than the selection that they gave me. Poetry is doing so great, they tell me, yet how many people that I know could even name a living poet? Heck, how many could even name a dead poet! Poetry is only good for commercially successful writers to add some credentials to their resumes. If you want to sell books, don’t write poetry. If you want to tell people, you sell books, write poetry. Today’s most popular poetry book is by a dead Greek writer about an adventure from thousands of years ago, so take that for what it’s worth, for how poetry is to the modern reader. On the one hand, it is quite impressive that Homer is still the top poet. On the other hand, we are all left wondering if that means that we can ever produce a poet on that level, and if we can’t, why?


My indecision by the small shelf was worsened because I walked by rows and rows of books that I didn’t care for to get to the section that no one else cared for. In case I am not being clear, I am talking about the over-saturation of young adult literature in the store. There were more aisles for young adult books than for philosophy, mythology, and poetry combined. I sensed that the industry was pushing for this kind of book. A young adult book, not a philosophical mythological poetry book. It seemed to me that many of the books could pass off as the same. Of course, I say this as I was passing by them, and their no synopsis back covers.


I know that there are some that find value in such stories and that my criticism of them is seen as poorly placed and misinformed, but I would be lying if I told you that I look up to any young adult books. There is the idea of addressing a book to a young adult, invalidating that book from more sophisticated conversations that adults may have, which I feel is true. I view young adult as nothing more than what pop music is in the music industry: it is the most popular, and there are even a few that I like, but I don’t know if sophistication is a word that I would associate with any of those books or songs. Are the best writers really young adult fiction writers? Are the best songwriters really pop musicians? As I said, I understand if there are those who disagree with me, but I have dealt with enough kids to know that the book that the kids all like is not going to be as high-minded as the adult book.


I say this, and yet the most popular author around is a young adult author, and the best songwriters are all pop musicians, so what do I know? Everyone is reading young adult books, listening to pop music, and having no problem with it.


That was why I thought about myself and my place in literature when I stood in the poetry section. “I don’t know, Greg. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you are outdated. Maybe… Maybe people don’t want to read me, and I am out of it.”

Maybe the world has moved on after the pandemic, and what I write with my interest in poetry, myths, and philosophy is not what people want. I am writing to an empty void, hoping for an answer that will never come. I am talking to a stranger that isn’t even there, waiting for a response. I am writing to an audience that doesn’t exist since everyone is interested in other genres, all of which I don’t write.


After that profound thought, I continued on my journey around the store, putting my cup of iced coffee on the closest shelf from time to time as my hand got too cold from holding it. I came across various other books that caught my eye, none worth mentioning to you in detail, and I soon found myself back at my table. My place in literature seemed no different from when this all began.


I threw out my iced coffee and closed my laptop. I decided against eavesdropping on the old women at the table next to me since I was too tired to write a poem about how they don’t like the current political nature of the world. I regretted not having a snack and smiled about being back in the bookstore. Sure, no one realized this trip to me, but I was happy to be back for a brief moment. One thing I learned from the pandemic is that people, despite themselves, figure it out. We get ourselves in trouble; we all panic about how bad it is and what happens, but we get out of it… somehow. The leaders and the ones who are supposed to know what is going on are never as resourceful as the common people who always seem willing to go against the rules and standards to help themselves and others. I was worried that I would never be back in the bookstore again. I’d never enjoy the moment of sitting at the table, pretending to work, writing a nonsensical poem, and thinking of a funny historical figure name to give the barista (Napoleon Bonaparte would be an interesting one), But here I was… again. Somehow, we figured it out. I don’t know how, but we did. People are more resourceful than we give ourselves credit.


I packed up my things to go with a grin on my face and didn’t worry about my lost place in the field. I will write what I write; if people read it, then that is great too.


Thank god nobody reads me, or else I’d have to worry about selling actual books.


It was nice to be back, though.

 
 

Ending

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About The Blogger

Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.

 

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