Buy the Book

A manual typewriter in the window display of Coastal Books in Half Moon Bay, CaliforniaI recently wrote about an alumnae event for my University where I was goosed by Father Time, when a much-younger attendee GASPED when I disclosed my graduation year. No two ways about it: I felt old.

Today, while strolling around Half Moon Bay with some friends, I was again reminded of my advancing years. We stopped at an excellent independent bookstore, Coastal Books on Main Street.  My friends’ daughter Sydney, who is in the third grade, pointed at the manual typewriter in the window display and asked, “Mom, what is that thing?”

It’s true, she had never seen a typewriter – the thing I used to type college applications and construct countless resume cover letters when I first launched myself into the working world. (I take some comfort in knowing that at least my typewriter was electric.) Everyone within earshot over the age of 35 cracked up.

Inside the store, there was more nostalgia, including something called a Personal Library Kit – another relic Haley (aged 6) and Sydney (aged 8) had never seen before. Each kit includes adhesive pockets for the front of books, checkout cards, a date stamp and ink pad, and one of those tiny pencils you can only find at the golf course, or in a little basket beside a public library card catalog.

A Personal Library KitThe kit is advertised as a means of keeping track of books loaned to friends, but I think it’s actually intended to tug at the sentimental heartstrings of those of us of a certain age. In fact, the product description reads, “The Personal Library Kit revives the old-fashioned library techniques for book retention.”

Old-fashioned? I beg your pardon? How could it be old-fashioned, since those items existed when I was at school, which was only… well, never mind how long ago that was. But they were part of an experience that is imprinted on my brain, thanks to years of repetition: choosing my books for the week, handing them to the librarian and hearing the thumps as she pressed the date stamp first onto the ink pad, then onto the checkout card in a crisp, efficient motion.

I can also vividly recall the sound of the plastic sleeve crinkling as the librarian opened and closed each book’s front cover. I even remember the excitement of getting my first library card.  It was made of paper — not plastic — and had my signature on it, not a bar code.

As is my custom when I visit an independent bookstore I like, today I bought a paperback from Coastal Books (The Englishman’s Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe), even though I own a Kindle. I do this in the hope that someday, when Haley and Sydney are grown, their children won’t ask them, “Mom, what’s a bookstore?”

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud technology and progress. I shed no tears for the obsolete telephone cord, whiteout correction fluid, or Betamax tapes.  I vastly prefer my laptop to my old Smith Corona, and I love the convenience and immediacy of ordering eBooks — but nothing beats meandering through the stacks in a library or bookstore, thumbing through the “staff picks” (which is how I chose today’s book), and walking away with something that invariably feels like a little gift for me, from myself.

So, what’s your typewriter, or bookstore?  Are there any vestiges of bygone days you have a soft spot for?