Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Store No More

Lately, when I’ve been getting off the train in the morning, it’s either been uncomfortably cold or warmer but rainy, so I’ve been making a beeline for the underground shops entrances and following that semi-indirect route to my office building in order to hide from the elements. But today it was dry and chilly but not frostbite-inducing, so I walked down Crystal Drive outside.

I often am reminded of one particular afternoon when I walk down the main drag, an afternoon which at this point is years gone. I was working at my first contract gig for my present employer, which was also located more or less on Crystal Drive, a bit closer to the VRE station than my present assignment (at this point I now think of all the time I spent in Rosslyn as just a brief interregnum in the Crystal City phase of my professional life). One day at lunch I decided to stroll down to a small, independent bookstore and pick up some new reading material. I bought a paperback and then crossed the street to Chipotle, where the noontime line was long enough that I cracked open the book and started reading while shuffling ever closer to the counter. I continued reading at a table by myself while I ate my burrito. And then I went back to work, and continued reading that book as I commuted back and forth over the next week or two. This was the old commute, before we moved, even before the little guy was born, in July of 2008. (I know this because I am so weirdly list-obsessed that I have, in a notebook on my desk at work, a complete inventory of every book I’ve read while commuting since May of 2007, broken out by month.)

I made the whole new-book-entered-into-over-burrito association again this morning, which is unsurprising when you consider a few factors. One, the independent bookstore in question closed up not long after I made that purchase, and I’ve always thought that was a shame. And I just finished reading a book about David Foster Wallace, which is really a long transcript, with very minimal editing, of the tape-recorded back and forth between DFW and David Lipsky, a novelist doing an assignment for Rolling Stone, about the book tour DFW undertook for Infinite Jest. Lipsky decided to publish the unvarnished accidental portrait, with DFW’s family’s blessing, after DFW’s death. There’s occasional insertions of Lipsky “now” looking back at the conversation he had a decade prior, and one thing he keeps mentioning is that a lot of those manifestations of the late-millennial publishing world, like independent bookstores and public readings and so on, have gone away.

And the book in question, which I’m being so coy about, was A Game of Thrones. As I mentioned recently, I’m planning on rereading A Song of Ice and Fire soon, and with the completion of the DFW interview book, I’m that much closer. I’ve basically finished all the big books I got for Christmas and the few others I had picked up here and there (at the Borders GOOB sale &c.) so, there’s that. Sorry to keep harping on this but what can I say, it's top-of-mind partly because of the novelty (to me) of deliberately having a second go at something for a reason other than "I was probably too young to really get this at the time I first read it."

Alas, poor Ned.
Anecdote-within-this-anecdote: when I picked up the first volume of A Song of Ice and Fire three and a half years ago it was just yet another series of epic fantasy novels. Now thanks to the HBO series its popularity and general pop visibility has increased exponentially. Back then it was just generic nerd-bait. I still clearly recall bringing it up to the bookstore counter and the girl working the register telling me “Oh, great book. Great book. I resisted reading it for a long time even though a bunch of my friends told me it was awesome, but then one of my friends started running a roleplaying campaign in this setting? So I figured I’d better familiarize myself with the environment. So glad I did. Now I just can’t wait for the next one to come out.” Bear in mind, I was on my lunch hour from work, the work for which I am required to dress like a grown-up in a shirt and tie and everything. So I was not wearing my Justice League of America ringer t-shirt, is what I’m getting at. But this girl assumed I would know all about roleplaying campaigns based on specific properties – which of course I do, but I’ve never really known what it is about me that just screams this to the world. I don’t wear glasses or a crystal dragon pendant or anything. I just have the face of a geek, I guess.

Also, at the time the girl mentioned her eager anticipation for volume five, I thought to myself “Well, I’ll just pace myself and work my way through the older books as the newer ones are coming out, and spare myself that waiting.” This did not work as Martin is legendarily slow, and A Dance With Dragons just came out this past July, three years after my transaction in the bookstore. I had long since finished the first four by then, obviously.

At any rate, it’s a shame that bookstore didn’t survive but in a selfish way I should be grateful. If it were still around, now that I’m back to working on Crystal Drive, I probably would have spent way too much time in both the bookstore and the facing Chipotle, and my house would be overflowing with impulsively obtained clearance table hardcovers while my weight climbed somewhere up around my age times ten. A little deprivation is definitely a good thing in my case.

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