The first time I heard about The Last Bookstore, I found the name intriguing. A quick online search returned the official webpage, where the store owner Josh Spencer quips, “The name was chosen with irony, but seems more appropriate with each passing day as physical bookstores die out like dinosaurs from the meteoric impact of Amazon and e-books.”
We millennials have been caught in a strange, transitory time when “opening” books has been casually replaced by “switching” them on. But for most of us bibliophiles, the transition is still a protracted battle in our minds. Like every generation that idolizes the era that marks their formative years, we can’t escape the allure of nostalgia that physical books evoke in us.
I feel it the moment I step inside the place. As I wade through the huge space filled with books both old and new, it feels like I have chanced upon a porthole into an alternate universe. The various art installations involving old books — the artful arrangement of books in the space above the counter at the entrance, the mezzanine floor that houses the “Labyrinth” with its portals surrounded by books, the bookcase featuring flying books and its book tunnels — are a perfect collision of art with the world of books, and it gives me the feeling of having tumbled into a bibliophile’s favorite dream.
The familiar whiff of musty books (the best kind, in my opinion), takes me back to some of my childhood’s happiest memories when my love affair with books first began: The time when I fell in love with adventures while exploring secret coves, hidden treasures and remote islands alongside the Famous Five. The time when I would put on my detective’s hat and go on a mystery-solving spree with Nancy Drew. The time when Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown’s cliffhangers would keep me up all night. The time when I was so inspired by Anne Frank’s diary that I decided to keep a journal. The time when M&B did more to my idea of teenage romance than any movie. The time when more than my school year, I looked forward to another year at Hogwarts — casting magical spells, befriending beasts and fighting dark wizards with Harry Potter and his wizard friends. The time when Ayn Rand’s portrayal of Dominique Francon and Dagny Taggart became the paragon of a strong, independent woman in my mind.
The time when my favorite post-school Saturday afternoon ritual involved cuddling up on the sofa with one of these treasures in hand and losing myself in the world that the pages unfolded before me. The time when the most difficult decision in life was selecting what books to buy within my limited budget when dad would take me to one of the biggest bookstores in town every summer vacation.
Eventually, I started earning enough money to buy every book that I wanted. But, sadly, it got to a point when the daily drudgery of waking up early for office would take precedence over my appetite for lying awake with a book all night. And gradually, the glorious habit got replaced by staying informed through pithy stories and musings of people I follow on my “smart” device. But every now and then, the bibliophile in me would rebel, not yet ready to give in to the robotization.
A few months before I enrolled in the master’s program and moved to the U.S., I signed up for a membership at a private library nearby, to rekindle my love for physical books. One evening, when I was curled up in my bed, slipping into Himalayan dreams with a Ruskin Bond in hand, I found to my dismay that when I encountered an unfamiliar word, I instinctively tried tapping it to look up its meaning! I knew the luxury of technology had breached the comfort of nostalgia. Perhaps Josh Spencer was right, and it is only a matter of time.
Shruthi Hiriyuru is a graduate student majoring in computer science. Her column, Trojan Postcards, runs every other week on Tuesdays.