The Joy of Bookshop Browsing

Dinh Le Book Store, Hanoi, Vietnam

I remember getting my first book when I was eight; my sister was nineteen. I was on the backseat of the motorcycle looking at people strolling along the Hoan Kiem Lake when my sister stopped at this very narrow no-sunlight-pass-through street called Dinh Le, the so-called book street of Hanoi. Who knows a lovely bookstreet can be so intimidating on the outside.

When i walked into the bookstore, I was even more intimidated. Who knows a lovely bookstore can be so intimidating on the inside. For an eight year old with a short neck, all adults look roughly the same height - a tall height! The bookshelves in all the stores were even twice taller than a proper one. I was just praying to my atheist god the whole time that the encyclopedias on the top shelf just wouldn’t fall down my tiny head and squash my tiny brain. And that’s the thrill of bookshop browsing.

Growing up a little, I grew fond of Dinh Le the book corner. I would go there and browse the fiction section, choosing the thickest book on the shelf under 50,000 VND (~ $2). Weirdly enough, it always turned out to be Charles Dickens. If Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne cost the same, but Dickens is thicker, I would definitely buy him. It is the value per page that matters; it is the economy of bookshop browsing.

Now that I’m in Boulder, I went to Barnes and Noble for the first time last week to buy Less by Andrew Sean Greer. The bookstore was huge; instead of stacking books on top of each other until the stack reaches twice the TALL height, the Americans organize shelves like they were in some sort of Maze Runner fantasy.

I consider browsing books an intellectual stroll. While looking for Andrew, I also met John Grisham, Malala and Adichie during that stroll. Weirdly enough, I studied the back and front of these three even more closely than Andrew and decided to buy them all. (technically i bought one and borrowed the other three from the library the next day). It’s not the joy of finding the book you want, but it’s the joy of finding the books you need while searching for the book you want. And that’s the joy of bookshop browsing.