Is it just me or does January feel like it gets longer the closer we get to its end? Granted, I don’t have a whole lot of tolerance for the winter months. In Missouri, this time of year is brutal and my English constitution is only just starting to adapt to the fact that 10 inches of snow can, in some places, actually be seen as relatively unremarkable. The positive side of this ‘no big deal’ attitude when faced with truly artic conditions is that the weather does not impact my book buying habits. As I’ve gotten older – and particularly since moving to the US – I’ve found that I very rarely buy books online. Although I’ve always tried to be a pretty conscientious book buyer, the draw of Amazon discounts was usually too much for me to resist. Recently, however, I’ve been thinking a lot about the complaining I do whenever a favourite bookshop closes and the huge amount of hypocrisy this requires when I do so much shopping online.
Although St Louis doesn’t have a huge amount going on (something that I say with love because this city’s depth has certainly surprised me), it has a tremendous amount of really amazing bookshops. Learning about the city through the eyes of its best independent booksellers has really been a gift. It gave me a vital sense of grounding and homeliness at a time when I still felt very lost. But the absolute best part of wandering these shops is, for me, the knowledge that there are so many potentially life changing books at my fingertips. I very rarely know what I’m looking for when I go into a bookshop and this uncertainty is everything that I love most about the book buying experience. Aimless meanderings brought me Tommy Orange’s monumental novel There There and, the book that I’m currently reading, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. This is something you just can’t replicate when trawling websites.
If you’re finding yourself dragged down by the winter blues (an experience in which you are certainly not alone), I can’t recommend enough that you take yourself off to a bookshop or library. Go without a plan and wander around. Pick out the covers you love most, dip into a few pages, and just let the anticipation wash over you. The dark and cold of January and February can be isolating and aimless. But, if you’re anything like me, some time spent around unknown books will conjure a sense of sweet expectation in which you will rediscover your home.