Recently while visiting another town to do some storytelling work, I found myself with a few hours to kill in between performances. I decided to pass the time by ambling up and down the streets, visiting the local farmer’s market, and peeking in the unique shops. Eventually I found myself being drawn into an old house with a sign out front that said “Moving Sale – All Books 30% Off.” I stepped inside the house and saw that every room of the first floor was covered floor to ceiling with a wide array of used books. The proprietor of the shop, an older lady with curly white hair and large glasses, asked me if I was looking for anything in particular, and when I told her “folktales,” she led me to the appropriate corner.
I perused the books and found about six which I decided would make good additions to my collection. When I went to check out, the lady said, “All the books are 30% off, but if you get ten books, I can give you 40% off.” I decided that adding four more books couldn’t hurt, especially since the lady was trying to get rid of everything after the death of her husband. I went back to work looking for more, and she began to help me. As I told her my interests, she continuously pulled out one interesting title after another.
“Oh, this one was one of my daughter’s favorites when she was little. . .” The paperback cover had a clothed donkey standing on two legs. I have a special love for donkeys! That book got added to my pile.
“Oh, and you have one Dr. Seuss book in your pile, but have you ever heard of ‘The Sneetches?’ That’s one of Seuss’ less well-known books, but it’s my favorite.” Then, like a child who can’t wait to share a good secret, she flipped through the pages and began to read the text to me in the sweetest of voices. And she was right — it was good stuff. Another addition to the pile.
Well, it went on like this for awhile – with her finding great selections for me as I too continued to peruse the shelves. In no time, an hour or more had easily passed, and I was forced to make my final selections and move on to set up my show. In the end, I think I must have ended up with closer to fifteen books all for a price of less than $35.
“Thank you so much,” said the lady as she rang up the sale. “You’re my first sale of the day!” (It was already approaching 6:00pm.)
As I shuffled out the door with my brown paper bag filled with treasures, my heart felt full in a way it never feels after buying a book on Amazon or at the local Books-A-Million. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the ease with which I can order a book with a few simple key strokes whenever I need it. However, I can’t help but feel sad when I think of what we have lost.
Gone are the days when the person on the other side of the counter could spend hours helping you find the books you didn’t even know you were looking for. Gone are the days of the personal touch – the mother in her coming out to tell me what her children loved about the book. The teacher in her coming out to tell me how she’d read it to her students. And those are just the things that sold me on half of my purchases – the fact that those very books had meant something special to someone else.
In a world that seems to be becoming increasingly “functional” in its approach to every thing, receiving a personal touch these days is akin to a touch of the divine.