The pandemic has changed everything. You knew that, of course. Like many people in fields of regular job uncertainty, we’ve curtailed spending as much as we can. Never very securely established after Nashotah House, we’ve managed to get by by not thinking too far ahead. I can’t imagine retirement (if there’s still a job left to report to). Even more, I can’t imagine a life without books. The only way I get through each day is by trying not to think about it. Still, I miss bookstores. Pre-pandemic, when jobs at least felt somewhat secure, we’d often nip into one of the many local independents of a weekend. Missing browsing shelves sorely, we stopped into Book and Puppet over in Easton, when on a trip to buy produce at the outdoor farmer’s market.
It felt strange, the thought of going into a store that wasn’t dedicated to groceries or hardware. Masked, of course, but would there be lots of people there, crowding the air with germs? No. There was maybe one other customer in the place. I have to admit that I was a bit disoriented, trying to read over spines on a shelf, not wanting to touch anything. I’ve tried hard to curb any spending during these highly uncertain times, but could I imagine a world with no bookstores? Would I even want to? Books, you see, give me hope. My vision of heaven is October and a never-ending stack of books (and, of course, friends). Books allow for escape and exploration. Life will continue after the pandemic in books.
The fear has gripped many of us, I suspect. I’m old enough to retire, but not well-off enough to do so. Our house requires a two-person income at our level (highly educated, under-employed), and the pandemic rolls on. I think of the Black Death—I’ve read about that too—and how history changed because of it. In this pandemic we’re dying (all but the wealthiest) piece by piece. The most vulnerable first, of course, but the middle class may well be in the sights. The owner of the bookstore said he wasn’t sure how long he could hold out. Just last year at this time I was participating in the Easton Book Festival that he’d organized. I had a book-signing at the nearby Moravian Bookshop. I can’t remember a time I felt so hopeful, knowing I had another book coming out, and if we survive long enough, another after that. I really shouldn’t, but I’m in a bookstore. I’ll buy one in hope that the future may just offer a place to keep it.