We humans love to get lost in a world that takes us away from the cares and responsibilities of our daily lives, away from some of the choices we’ve made that have placed us where we are.
We’re funny creatures, though. We want new worlds to explore and exotic vistas to experience, but above all else we want to feel safe. That’s why we are where we are, and not where we could be. And I think that’s why we’re so captivated by books, film, music, or moving pieces of work created by talented artists of any kind. These things give us the novel experiences we crave without any of the associated physical or existential risk.
We grab these experiences wherever and however we can, but nowhere are they more easily accessible than in an old book shop. For thousands of years, books have been the primary mass transportation vehicle to new worlds, and old book shops provide the perfect atmosphere in which to consume them.
The shop is a little world to explore in and of itself – you get off the street, wind your way into the recesses of the building through the labyrinth of shelves, back where it’s quiet and peaceful and you’re alone, tucked in, safe, cozy. Time seems to stand still. And now you’re surrounded by thousands of worlds to explore, just an arm’s length away.
It is in these moments – quiet, alone, surrounded by row upon row of human stories – that we get the strongest sense of infinite possibility, where we feel that maybe if we get right on eye level with one of the shelves, look down the line of standing books, and squint just a little bit, any story could become our own, a vision of a life lived differently, of bolder choices made.
We see lives and worlds that could once have been ours had we chosen a different path, and we wonder if any may still be open to us . . . and if so, whether we are brave enough to explore them.
There is a certain kind of freedom to be found in an old book shop.
Maybe that’s why we love them so much.