Sunday, March 30, 2008

Shelf Circuit

Saturday afternoon found me in the middle of the Fully Booked branch in Rockwell's Power Plant mall, looking for reading material.

Despite my constant hangouts at various malls and bookstores, I don't buy much in the way of books. Part of the reason behind this is the fact that I'm a cheapskate -- I'd rather look for collectibles among the local bargain book sales, or failing that, borrow a few volumes from people who have copies. Most of my reading fare, in fact, revolves around magazines and digest-sized works for some reason -- I try to pick up a book only if I feel that it's worth owning for twenty-odd years or so.

On the other hand, that doesn't mean that I don't feel the occasional hunger for something small, economy-sized, and paperback... so Saturday found me in a Fully Booked branch, looking for something that could tide my interest for a few days.

I went about a usual circuitous path through the bookstore, trying to deduce a layout that I hadn't seen in almost six months. The magazine collection caught my attention first, but I quickly discarded the notion after a few minutes of browsing. Fully Booked has an incredible collection of magazines, yes, but they're all about four or five times as expensive as the stuff that you see being sold on the usual newspaper racks.

I then found the comics section, and spent a while looking for a few complete trade paperback collections that I had been recommended. Having just picked up a copy of Metzer and Morales's Identity Crisis last month, however, I felt that I wasn't looking for any graphic novels or manga at the time. If anything, they wouldn't have been good for more than an hour's entertainment at best.

I took my time scouring the fiction area at that point. Normally I first check the Sci-Fi/Fantasy shelves for anything that looks interesting, then move on to the Horror and Mystery stacks, and then have a look at Filipiniana and General Fiction. I look for a lot of things -- new books from personal favorites (Terry Pratchett, Lillian Jackson Braun and Stephen King), just-released volumes with striking cover designs and text synopses, and old works that I had previously enjoyed and wanted to add to a long-term collection. Over an hour of walking around and getting the staff nervous about my presence, I found nothing that caught my eye enough to drag to the counter.

It was at this point that an interesting plot idea came to mind -- what if you had a single random person suddenly give a long, agonized scream while standing in the middle of a bookstore's shelves, followed by an instant where that person's body crumbles to dust? The idea was certainly very raw and would need a lot of explanation, but it felt as though it would be a very disconcerting situation to any reader. If anything, I filed it away in the back of my mind for possible use later on.

Having found nothing that caught my fancy in the fiction section, I leafed through several books in the "novelties" area. This was apparently a catch-all between humor books, picture books for adults and whatever could not simply be placed among the other shelves, and as such, it was a gold mine for anything weird. I ended up picking out a book on the worst technology-related blunders of the past decade (Dear Valued Customer, You Are a Loser by Rick Broadhead) and asking a staff member if they had any newer copies still encased in plastic. They found that they didn't and apologized, but the book's content was enchanting enough for me to tuck it under my arm and move on.

A few steps before my foray into the children's section, I noticed a massive spread that advertised the Top 100 books ever written (although I never found out exactly who put the list together, and it doesn't match any of my Internet searches). That busied me for at least the next thirty minutes, as I tried to identify each and every one of their titles and figure out whether or not I had read them already. I had obviously plowed through quite a few of them (To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Watchmen, The Metamorphosis, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, among others), but I also wondered about a few that I hadn't read (Yann Martel's Life of Pi and Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase come to mind), and I chuckled at the similarity of titles between Golding's The Lord of the Flies and Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The list also drew my attention to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a copy of which I also tucked under my arm for the checkout counter. I had never read it in its entirety yet, if only because I had this constant nagging feeling that we had a copy in the house somewhere and I had to find it first.

My trip to the children's section was cut short by some raucous laughter coming from the Spiderwick shelves. There was a small clique of sixteen-year-olds hanging out and sitting around there doing absolutely nothing at all. Far from having them bother me, I quickly envisioned another plot idea: What if there was a race of intellectual morlocks that lived within the bookstore at night, stealing titles away from the shelves so that the best volumes would encounter massive shortages in the morning? It was another object to file in the back of my mind as I walked to the checkout counter.

Unfortunately for me, the very polite clerk there refused to give me a discount for what was an opened copy of Broadhead's book. Books Kinokuniya in Singapore had cut me some slack on this years ago, when I bought an old weathered copy of The Book of the Shadowlands (by Alderac Entertainment), and the store gave me a nice discount. Kinokuniya even offered to wrap the book in plastic for me, free of charge -- although with that said, I had to admit that this was no Kinokuniya.

So I exited a two-and-a-half hour sojourn with a couple of books in a plastic bag waiting to be read when I got home. On the way out I passed by a display of paperback copies for The Other Boleyn Girl, now a major motion picture starring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman. I refrained from leafing through the copies, though. Maybe I would just get another magazine somewhere on the way home...

No comments: