Earlier this week I met two friends physically in a long time to do one specific thing: book shopping. I think the last time I actually met one of them was in late January or very early February. We had our masks on of course and kept safe distances, but we were fortunate not to step into too busy environments. It is amusing as I reflect since the moment we stepped into the store, we were reveling in the scene, delighted to see books physically displayed—giving the chance to feel and flip the pages—instead of seeing them on screen and arriving in a box. I think it felt delightful and bizarre since I genuinely do not remember the last time I went to a bookshop with lovely displays physically showing all the works that are out there.
Together my friends probably bought closer to ten books, but I might be exaggerating. Unfortunately, I ended up finding only one book I had had my eye on, though it made me really content; it was Olga Tokarczuk’s novel titled Flights. I was actually relieved that I did not have to leave the shop empty handed since this would have almost felt unacceptable after such a long time, and after finishing a tiring year. We were, in this way, celebrating the end of another academic year and as English literature students, getting more books seemed like a natural way to end a stressful year that from autumn to spring emphasized the importance of literature—and made me passionate about it significantly more. Given the difficult circumstances as well, book shopping, then, seemed the best way to rejoice an end – as well as to uphold our love of literature. The mentality was, what is better than books? And for that matter, what is lovelier than shopping for books with fellow students of literature? (Shopping for safe trips, for instance, seems a bit unattainable at this very moment.)
Despite getting only one novel, seeing all those books up close made me want to explore different genres further – being rather happy that a flood of ideas came at once. In retrospect, I had not realized how much I had missed such a simple thing as going to a bookshop, especially with friends. Funny how the current state of the world might affect one. Before, I might have gone at least once a week to maybe kill some time, but also to explore ideas for my reading list; but since nothing has obligated or suggested that you should physically go to class, meetings and get-togethers, or get coffee or lunch, because of the pandemic, actually going to bookshops and idly spending time had just seemed unnecessary. But I have been getting a bit sick of ordering books online – especially since I consider going to a bookstore also as one of those simple, little pleasures of life—an interesting time well spent. And while with friends, I think some of the best and most fascinating conversations go on while book shopping, which show how much a book lover – or literature lover in general – someone truly is. I remember once trying to explain one of Shakespeare’s plays to these very people I went shopping for books with recently, and I got weirdly excited… and probably explained the brilliant play horribly.
After the pandemic turned into a strange, difficult rollercoaster in Finland – worsening, improving, worsening again, et cetera – my mentality that you cannot be too careful mostly took over, and study sessions, that would normally be held over coffee, were also preferred on Zoom just to be safe. Obviously, then, these and constantly being tired (almost exhausted) do not compel one to just go to a bookshop once a week and idly spend time exploring when there is nothing else to do and no one to meet in the busier urban environment. These are some of the reasons that made me particularly miss physically going to a bookshop and unexpectedly finding a new, lovely read—instead of wondering whether the book you ordered is as you imagine it, or it is late and arrives damaged.
This might be a futile subject, but I cannot forget those first seconds of stepping into the exquisite Akateeminen Kirjakauppa after a long time, that let me explore literary works up close and (gently) flip through the pages to see more of what is in them. I can only hope that the next academic year will take us back to coming and going between classes and coffees and lunches, and then, at the same time, compelling us to visit the bookshops in between these things—to quickly buy a work already in our minds, or to idly spend time among all the literary art.