Menlo Park, Books Inc., the Changing World

Walking through the town of Menlo Park, about 8 mi. from Stanford U. We stop at Penzey’s spices, and spend a lot of time sniffing 6 different types of cinnamon, shallot salt, 3 different kinds of vanilla, and countless aromatic spices and herbs. I buy annatto seeds and ground allspice. On Santa Cruz St. we count maybe 10 empty storefronts (in the space of about 3 blocks) on what obviously was once a thriving street full of coffee houses, restaurants, and boutiques. At Peets, on wifi, I notice Lloyd’s tweet that Peets coffee is about to sell out to Starbucks. I check the daily hyperbolic headline at Huffpost, then switch to an article at the LA Times reporting on radiation levels at Fukushima.

We stop at Books Inc. Ah, bookstores, with your “staff recommendations” (little reviews handwritten on index cards taped to the shelves) and your magazine racks (I flip through Bomb, and Bitch), located so high on the magazine rack that I need help to retrieve them. Each shelf section (fiction, non-fiction, art) is shaped into a little alcove that you can lose yourself in. Ah, bookstores, with your sexy clerks, your Penguin Classics, and racks of reading glasses; your gift boxes of puzzles and magnetic letters, and birthday cards to offset what you’ve lost to e-readers and iPads. Funny how we have treated books as objects of the mind, almost as abstract things. But now we remember they are sensual objects with heft, smell, and weight, and covers that attract our attention like blossoms to bees.

Still, I’ve noticed that a number of independent bookstores are pairing up with Google to sell ebooks.

Driving home, got the iPod on shuffle; bouncing back and forth between ambient, hardcore rock, and goofy stuff. I’m thinking again of those brief handwritten reviews; the black ink from felt-tip markers, fountain pens, or ballpoints, the looping (but carefully neat) cursives, and the circle “dots” above the i’s.