I’ve been thinking about the art of browsing. And it is an art, I think.
Last week, I took the boys to the local library for a meeting of Mr7’s Summer Reading Club. As they sat down together and made mobiles from a paper plate, some tin foil, a stencil and someone else’s endless patience, I took to the grown-up section for some serious browsing.
It’s been ages since I did this. Mostly I’m in there with two boys, one of whom wants me to read Spot books and the other who wants to drag me through the ‘big kids’ section in search of Encyclopedia Brown books.
Not a scenario that makes for comfortable browsing.
This day, however, I had free rein to wander each shelf, muttering under my breath (as I do every time) that it would all be so much easier if it were divided into ‘crime’, ‘romance’, ‘Australian authors’, ‘etcetera’, as the bookshops are. I picked out nine books. Five of whom were written by authors whom I knew and loved. Four were not. Chosen simply because I liked the cover. Or the blurb on the back.
This got me thinking about online shopping, which is, I confess, my usual method of buying books. As with most things internet, there’s no browsing. You have to know what you want to find anything.
Think about it – it’s difficult to waft around any shop online, as you would in a real-life retail space. You know you want a wrap dress, and that’s what you look for. You probably even know you want a Leona Edmiston wrap dress. And yes, online shops deliver them in your size, all in a row. But there’s no room for your eye to be caught by the pretty top in the corner. Or the belt and earrings at the register.
Impulse purchases are the bane of many a person’s credit card existence, so I guess I should be happy that temptation is taken away. But I do think we miss out when we can’t browse.
A story in last weekend’s Good Weekend magazine asked the question ‘Can the book survive?’. The upshot of the story, by Nikki Barrowclough, was that e-books, with their instant, efficient, easy to carry appeal, are the way of the future, but that they will not, in the opinion of most people interviewed, replace printed books entirely.
The more time I spend online, the more my Luddite aversion to e-books fades. I love my printed books, and will always buy them, but for someone like me who reads voraciously, there is a lot to be said for cheaper books and being able to carry around more than one without lifelong back problems.
As a writer, on the other hand, nothing beats the thrill and satisfaction of holding a book, a real life book, with your own name on it. Emailing one to your friends will not, I suspect, feel the same.
But back to browsing. One thing my library experience reinforced was the willingness to try new things when they’re put in front of you (and yes, I concur, that’s easier when they’re free). When you search for something online, you get taken directly there – that’s the joy of it. But in arriving at your destination in one fell swoop, you miss finding the B roads – those lazy, winding detours that can present stunning scenery and unexpected country pubs.
So it is with buying books. How many wonderful authors and stories might you miss out on because you took the information super-highway?
What do you think? Do you find you browse for books online, or search for specific things? Does it matter?
Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).