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There’s no replacement for the thrill of browsing in a bookstore (washingtonpost.com)
244 points by r_singh 80 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 149 comments

As much as I hate to say this, but I hardly use physical bookstores anymore. Most of them are just as commercial as their online counterparts but with limited space. And the limited space they have they mostly spend on stacks of the same shitty best-sellers with glowing reviews. The books I come for are hardly ever at hand, so I will have to order them, which is what I would do in an online bookstore anyway. Moreover, I am switching to ebooks more and more. Less to drag around when I move house.

I will make a big exception for second-hand bookstores though. The character of a second-hand shop is very hard to replicate online, as is the opportunity for serendipity. Every online shop has a search function that beats the life out of chance finds. In a second-hand shop you may happen upon a book that has been sitting on a shelf for years (maybe even misplaced) waiting just for you. I cannot resist that siren call.

I visited the US last year. In a charming little second-hand bookstore (including a grumpy owner) in Flagstaff I chanced upon the collected works of Carol Shields. I had never heard of her but she may well turn out to be a literary love for life. Thank you, grumpy owner.

Best grumpy-used-book-store-owner experience ever: A friend and I went into an exceedingly cramped used book store in SF years ago, each looking for a particular title. Books were on shelves and also stacked in piles scattered along the two narrow aisles. There were a few labeled "sections", but within a section, everything was random. There was one other customer, my friend, and me, all tripping over one-another, looking for our books.

Owner, from the front register, in a rather annoyed voice: "You know, you should call ahead, so I can tell you if we have your title, and have it ready for you when you come. We don't have room for customers to be rummaging around." So, we accepted defeat, and as we went to leave, the store phone rang, and the owner picked up. After a beat, and as I was stepping out the door, I heard the owner grumpily responding to the caller: "How should I know? I can't keep track of all the books here; you have to come in and look for it yourself..."

Similar story, different outcome: long ago I went into a used bookstore housed in an old firestation (now a theatre). It had many books shelved on its first floor, but the second floor was an acre of heaps.

Its owner was a grey-haired and bearded, gruffish old-school book dealer. I was looking for an obscure French novel which was (I did not know) unlikely to be found anywhere, then or now.

After quickly trying my luck and utterly failing, I asked about it by author and title. Melvin looked down, shuffled a bit, then said he'd have a look. Upstairs around the firepole he trudged. Five minutes of bumping, ten minutes of shuffling, and down the stairs he came holding it. "It's a little dusty," he offered.

I'd pay a sizeable sum to be able to relive that moment.

I had the same experience about 30 years ago. A very old man (more than 80) had a used book store with 5 meters high shelves and stacks and piles and heaps everywhere. I came in and asked "do you have the works of Antiphon, by any chance? The bilingual version?" "He think for a moment, "ah, do you mean the 1923 translation? I must have it somewhere up there..." And he went up a ladder, rummaged on some shelves, and came back with the old, uncut book, in the battered original edition.

I've bought many, many books there for a while, particularly the rare (and expensive when new) "Guillaume Budé" books in their original, paper-cover, uncut editions (https://www.lesbelleslettres.com/les-budes). Some very sad day, the guy died and the magic store closed forever.

My favourite dusty bookstore story is the "$15 shipping" on this.


What book?

I'm so grateful I got to visit the old seminary co-op bookstore at UChicago before it was destroyed. Low ceiling, hot steam-pipes everywhere, long winding narrow maze made of books. Just the right amount of claustrophobia and fire hazard. That place was magic.


Very discworldian.

Used bookstores tend to be very, very good. You can find all sorts of amazing gems in there you'd have never thought to search for via a web interface. Even better, they tend not to be packed with the bestseller of the day.

The main value I get from the physical bookstores I love is the curation aspect. Kepler's Books in Menlo Park is an example of a place doing this well. I suppose this could be done digitally as well, but so far Amazon seems more focused on having every product on earth and using "you might be interested in" algorithmic recommendations than hand curating selections with a point of view.

I think the low visual density of an online shopping page vs an in-store display is part of the challenge in replicating that experience.

I was recently thinking about a digital experience that can mirror the experience of walking into an old bookstore (think, City Lights or Strand) or a second-hand book store, and came up empty.

Walking into a room guaranteed to be filled with treasures, joys and learnings, what digital experience can mirror that?

The closest way I suspect that the equivalent would unfortunately require all books to be fully loaded for free as a prerequisite essentially as to get the experience the data must be there. Even then such a VR bookstore while overkill and somewht immersive it would still be distinguishable.

Really it is like life of an individual person I suppose. There will be many more like them, tbose that echo them but an exact duplicate reoccuring is impossible because the world changes around them. It won't lack for similar treasures, joys, and learning but it won't be the same.

Yeah, that's something I was discussing with a friend too. Would be great to be able to shop fresh food online in a way that's more similar to how we do it in a physical store.

If one wants serendipity online, maybe it's better to look for it at small independent sites, like whichbook.net.

I suggest checking out your public library. Browsing books and then also being able to take them home for free is even more of a thrill imo.

I love libraries but they don't usually have the latest books. I get my book recommendations from Tyler Cowen's blog and most of the books featured there take a while to show up in library collections or if ever at all. (I know I can put in requests, but they take weeks and I'd have lost interest by that time)

I get more of a thrill from bookstore displays because they give me a sense of the current literary zeitgeist, especially if the owner is a reader and has curated the display carefully. Bookstores have more of an incentive to push new stuff.

Only tangentially related, but my favorite place to browse during undergrad was the sorting shelves at the university library (which were publicly accessible, though not advertised). When books were returned they were sorted there before being sent out to be reshelved across the library[1], so it was a daily snapshot of what books the university community thought were worth reading. I picked up a number of books there that I never would have seen otherwise.

Unfortunately when I went to graduate school the sorting shelves were hidden behind the circulation desk.

[1] Unless there was a hold on the book, in which case it would be kept at the circulation desk--so the most popular books never made it to the sorting shelves.

The original "engagement" optimizing algorithm.

I've done the same.

And unsorted returns have a "customers who liked this also liked" aspect.

My public library has a "recently returned" section for this very purpose. I love it.

But bookstores often do not have all the latest books, nor do they always have the best of older ones. There's just no alternative to the web anymore, especially when it comes to user reviews. (Not to mention the universal trend to move away from paper books.)

I think bookstores suffer from the current literary zeitgeist. Consider of the best 10,000 books ever printed, what percentage where printed in the last 3 years? Stores need novelty to sell books which seriously compromises quality.

Having the latest books does not interest me overly much. Unless I am interested in something relevant to current events, or want the last book of a long series that I started, I find the backlog of good books to be sufficiently gargantuan. The main feeling I get when I go to a library looking for some fiction is the immense number of novels sitting on the shelves that probably have not been checked out from the library in a decade.....and it makes me want to try that dusty tomb with the boring but sturdy hardcover sitting on the bottom shelf.

> when I go to a library looking for some fiction

That's my problem with libraries, other than university ones: they're massively biased towards fiction. Basically printed Netflix.

I don't consider my local library if I need to learn something or research science or history. It doesn't even have the shelf of encyclopedias that it did when I worked there as a student 30 years ago.

This is exactly why I miss my university library. Even though the main branch of my local public library is probably slightly biased towards non-fiction, in terms of total works (though it's drowned out when you add the other branches in), the level of stuff just isn't academic, and it's often almost impossible to find good academic stuff. The local university library sadly isn't much better. I never realized how much I was spoiled by a good university library until I didn't have access to it anymore.

That is a fair assessment. For my scholarly activities, I do not go to a public library, but a University library or the internet. I wouldn't denigrate the whole literary genre of fiction as just 'Printed Netflix' though.

Vitually any library will take recommendations, and a source such as Cowen (or Gates, or other notable academics/authors) will tend to be well-received.

Few of the best books are recent, as Schopenhauer noted.

If you want to read best sellers from five years ago they are great. If you are willing to work the queue you can get new stuff, just not on your time table. If you are into anything the least bit esoteric and/or aren’t organized with your returns or the waitlist they are frustrating. I have always had a love/hate relationship with libraries.

I have unusual reading interests and don't normally read best sellers, so I use inter-library loan a lot. I can normally get what I want through that, although sometimes I have to wait a couple of weeks for them to find/ship the book to my library.

If you are looking for esoteric library books and in California, try Link+. It lets you get books from many libraries, including university libraries. My tastes are very, very obscure but Link+ often finds the 1953 computer book that I'm looking for. (Other areas may have similar inter-library loan services.) https://csul.iii.com/

ILL (or regional equivalents) are useful.

Though LibGen + Gutenberg + Archive.org are increasingly preferable, especially for obscure interests.

I've noticed that my enjoyment of a book doesn't seem to be related to the age of the book, provided it's not so old that I can't understand the dialect of English it was written in (English Renaissance drama is enjoyable but challenging.)

If more people donated newer books to their libraries, this might not be as big an issue.

I think mine is an uncommon opinion, but libraries actually make me kind of sad haha. Most of the books are not well-cared-for. There's tattered pages, ruined hardcover slips, markings, etc. I really hate it, so I never go to the library.

But one of my girlfriend's and my favorite dates is to just find a bookstore and just walk around. (Often we use B&N because of availability, but we try to find local when we can.) We don't usually come away having purchased anything, but just walking around and talking about books you've heard of or read, and leafing through some of the pages to see if anything catches your eye — I love that. I also like that bookstores are often a bit more aesthetic than the local library, plus they frequently have a cafe attached or adjacent where you can sit for a while afterwards, sometimes with some new books to poke through.

Funny, I'd come away with the opposite opinion upon seeing a library book with so much use.

Personally, I'd be happier to see a thriving library and a well-loved book still going strong than see it with perfect, uncracked book-bindings.

Me too. One of my favorite thrift store finds was an ancient copy of "The Nemesis from Terra" by Leigh Bracket. Inside the front cover was written:

"This Book Belongs to Ken Xxxxx for you see no other human being would read such trash. - Guess Who"

followed by, in another hand:

"your just jelous because you don'T UNDersTaNd IT!"

Best book review ever.

Yeah, this seems to be the overwhelmingly common opinion among book-lovers, hence the lead-in that I thought my perspective was unusual. I seem to be unique in hating the appearance of a "well-loved" book like so many people seem to enjoy. My books never end up looking that way haha. At most, the spines break-in a bit, but most of my books look very new despite having been read multiple times. Just how I like them, I suppose.

Collectors (and listeners) of LP records tend to want their items pristine, even if second-hand, as sound quality is easily disturbed. I think books are more the outlier though, where many people are happy for them to be well-loved.

I blame it on quarantine, but for the past week or so I've really been longing to spend an afternoon in a library. They were one of the best parts of my childhood and teenage years: scanning a shelf and picking out something that catches your eye was a more efficient process, yielding more spontaneity and serendipity and quality, than the existing "recommended books" algorithms that exist on my library's online app. Finding books on similar topics was so much easier with the Dewey Decimal system. It's amazing to me that, decades into the information revolution, we still haven't been able to replicate the efficiencies of that manual sorting system online.

> scanning a shelf and picking out something that catches your eye was a more efficient process, yielding more spontaneity and serendipity and quality, than the existing "recommended books" algorithms that exist on my library's online app

So much this.

Have you not noticed that libraries rarely have many books anymore? Most of the space is taken up by computers, 3d printers and various other things, conference rooms and various other things. Not that those things are bad, they're just not books.

My local library is gigantic. But there are hardly any books in it. The shelves are low to the ground, the aisles are wide, and the shelves only occupy about a quarter of the floor space.

I don't even bother looking for scifi there, as there's pretty much nothing. Most of the rest of the books are clearly targeted towards young readers.

Where I browse for books are thrift stores. Some deceased person's books get dumped there, and I've found and bought a ton of cool books there. Being a thrift store, they're cheap as dirt, too. Lots of old scifi, too!

Some friends of mine would buy (by mass[1]) books libraries were getting rid of to make room for their new acquisitions. This strategy is more expensive than it might naively seem, because they were forced to move house every so often as their collection expanded.

(Walter, would you know if Powell's still exists in its original form?)

[1] buying by bulk resulted in many duplicates, which they'd leave in a pile at the front door for guests to take away.

The majority of the people in my local library are (or rather were, before covid-19) immigrants and other low income people camping on the computers to use the free internet

If you're lucky enough, like me, to live in a university town, don't miss out on the faculty library of whatever subject area of your interest (science, art, philosophy, you name it).

I'm currently neck-deep in a subject, and was searching for an expensive (80€) reference book online, and serendipitously I came across a search result pointing to my local university.

I immediately biked to the university (15-minute ride), paid a piddling amount of 15€ (or 25€, I forget) as the membership fee for the faculty library, and loaned that book and a couple of others. Pretty neat.

Since then, I discovered, 95% of all the serious scholarly works that I want to refer to are available at the university faculty library.

By Jove do I struggle to express how delighted I am to have stumbled across that online search result (here Google gets my gratitude!), which led to many fruitful (non-null) pointers. I already spend substantial money on physical books, so this discovery of faculty library has been an outstanding find.

I've tried this, but sadly the books I want are fairly specialized; my alma mater had them, but the university library in my current town doesn't (their search is also horrible, often redirecting to journals before books), and ILL costs $25 per book, sadly. I wish I still lived up there, as they have free check out for local alumni.

This is an issue facing much of online media content (imo). Take for example music. I use youtube to find music, where-as I used to regularly spend money at record stores. At this point youtube represents a far more varied buffet for me to pick from.

HOWEVER, since selections and recommendations are algorithmically generated, and clearly drive towards sponsored artists (and sometimes what appear to be algorithmic black holes: looking at you Tycho), the variety of the recommendations I get tends to get be pretty damn stale. It takes substantial effort on my part to introduce variety into the system and when allowed to run on its own, it always seems to regress towards a very static set of recommendations.

I think the analog variant of this, a record store resolves this by at least forcing you to walk past a bunch of music you might not have other wise listened to. Same thing is true with the book store. You might not be into the classics, but you'll walk past them everytime to get to sci-fi. Eventually you might be like, eh, sure, lets try out some Dostoevsky.

I think a possible resolution to this is to stop treating recommendation algorithms as a purely a product recommendation system or as some black box secret sauce. Give people the ability to work with and manually adjust the algorithms that are built to offer them products/ make recommendations. Allow users to work in partnership with the algorithms to get a more varied (or less varied) range of recommendations.

you may find Bandcamp addresses some of the of issues you outline above. I do what I refer to as bandcamping: sort by new releases, filter for physical media and major genre. start flipping through everything and be pleasantly surprised. my reasoning on the physical media part is that it raises the barrier to entry enough that you're browsing things someone believed in enough to put on tape or vinyl.

the fact that Bandcamp seems to be the best payout to artists as well as free unlimited ad-free streaming and drm-free downloads of your library makes it really attractive compared to other options.

> Give people the ability to work with and manually adjust the algorithms that are built to offer them products/ make recommendations.

I think most people are already there. Even non technical people see their recommandations get flooded by dozens of similar videos, and quickly realize they’ll have to find by themselves different videos if they want to see their recommended stream change.

I had my son explain he didn’t want to click on the unboxing video even if he was interested, because it would make all his feed unboxing videos.

Depends on the personality trait distribution in the population around the store - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_NEO_Personality_Invent...

Not everyone has the openness to new experience trait.

Use search rather than recommendations.

CSS extensions (Stylus) and uBlock origin's element blocker can remove YT's recommendations entirely. That (along with. nuking comments) is a tremendous UX boost.

Search has a discovery problem, though—you have to know what you’re looking for. Even if you know, it’s increasingly difficult to locate it via keyword search. And isn’t Google/YouTube search a type of recommendation engine anyways (i.e. results are conditional on your browsing history and other factors)?

True, though it varies somewhat by dommain. For, say, informational or academic topics, search is at least fair. When researching a specific author or authority, better. For music, not quite so much.

I don't have a YT account, have used it under Incognito for years (keeping session histories minimal and fresh, and as of a few months ago, block all cookies entirely.

This kills some search relevance, but is exceptionally good at avoiding that corner of youtube --- the zone of ever more finely curated crap.

YT's lack of channel-blocking (never, ever, on any circumstances show results from $CHANNEL in search or recommendations, or of creating short-term playlists based on search results, are increasingly crippling. On the latter, mps-youtube has excellent search and list-curation features I use heavily.

For decades browsing the bookstores on Saturday mornings was a bi-weekly treat for me. These days, 95% of my books are bought online and for the Kindle.

Tech and science books aimed at the scientific literate but non-specialist have all but disappeared. The physical quality of fiction books in terms of print quality and binding are just garbage compared to 25 years ago.

It is a bit sad for a book lover. Our home is still filled with multiple thousands of books, probably also several hundreds still unread as new books were bought at a higher frequency than they could be read, so moving down the strata of an ever accumulating 'to read' sediment.

With the instant availability and fulfillment of online eBook purchases, that vice has disappeared together with it's joy.

Do you have any existing books you would recommend from your "tech and science books aimed at the scientific literate but non-specialist" category?

So many. One I remember very fondly is "The beak of the Finch". https://www.amazon.com/Beak-Finch-Story-Evolution-Time/dp/06...

Years ago I bought this by mistake thinking it was a murder mystery. 50 pages in and I was really confused... good writing but no sign of a mystery. Reread the back cover more carefully and the penny dropped.

One of my favorites is "Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation". The Kindle version is currently on sale for 90% off, for the U.S. at least.

I discovered that one browsing a friend's bookshelf.

I also enjoyed "Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed History".

I was highly amused to discover recently that Pegasus Book Exchange here in Seattle had gone to the trouble of photographing all their shelves, so you can "browse" remotely. You still can't smell the books, but this might be the closest you can get.


When I first heard of Amazon I thought it’d be like this: a curated list presented as spines-on-shelves. It feels like spines-on-shelves organized-by-Dewey let’s me use contextual knowledge to rapidly browse books in a way that the much higher-information-content “list of books” in, say, iOS books, or Kindle does not.

I guess I want curation and taxonomy, but book information should be minimal until I “pull it from the shelf”. I’d support (Patreon) a group that did high-quality curation.

This is cool, and a little bit bizarre. I feel like it would be a fun experience to be able to view these photos in Three.js

I expected an old-fashioned "click part of the image and go to a different link" where I could click on a book's spine and get linked to a page with more details about it. Of course, this is a lot more work so I can see why they didn't do this. But this was one of my favorite elements of '90s websites. You have some big (for the time) image up top and you, say, click on one of the characters in it to get to the guestbook.

Similarly, grocery shopping isn't quite the same doing it through an app. Thrill vs. getting new ideas by seeing what fruits and veggies that look good and fresh, etc...

Another point of view: through the app I buy less not needed stuff because they are around the tills. Stop and resume the process anytime, also I don't need to fight with my daughter over the 3rd bar of chocolate :)

In my teens and early 20's, second-hand bookstores were a reliable go-to in the dating bag of tricks for me. The smell, the cramped quarters, the discussion - it was easier to give an air of sophistication and worldliness to impress your date. It always opened up the other person to confess their likes and dislikes, giving new ideas for future dates. Ah, fond memories from another time.

Same reason a lot of miss Blockbuster nights from our youth. Now rather than 50000 channels of nothing, we scan through endless streaming options. My only reprieve is that Netflix still offers their DVD service.

> My only reprieve is that Netflix still offers their DVD service.

Wait, seriously?

Seriously! They tried spinning it off years ago, remember "Qwikster"?

Anyway, it's no where as good as is used to be. After the rise of streaming they shut down many fulfillment centers and quit mailing out on Saturdays. My quick 3 day turn around turned into 5-7 days. Eventually I canceled the service once I figured out that Redbox could in fill in my new release rental needs for less money (with coupons anyway).

blockbuster eventually had the same problem as the netflix home screen. I’d spend an hour slowly browsing through the space, and finally go home empty-handed

that was the exact thing that caused me to start using netflix - i used to spend so much time on cable browsing channels, only to realize i spent 30+min doing that

now the same thing is happening with netflix. i'm not sure if it's that the selection has greatly diminished, or if it's the algos (hbo max suggestions are pretty good imo)

i think the smartest thing these services do is allow you to share accounts. i would have canceled a while back but my family is using it too

If you're in the US and you're looking for movies, Netflix's selection has greatly diminished. Their movie selection peaked about a decade ago and they've lost thousands of titles since then.

I've found the opposite, and I've had disk rental since the beginning. There is maybe a dozen films out of my queue of 500 that is in the "Saved" section. Besides, what's the alternative? Nothing.

Such is life. Once the big fish saw money was to be made, of course they used their power to get a piece of the pie.

also the quality of blurays is still way better - during this shelter in place i've started buying some and really like it

Agreed, 95% of my moving viewing is disk. I didn't spend all these thousands on stereo and movie gear to watch low bitrate streams.

...only in the U.S., though :(

Can't find the original Tweet to credit it, but a great bookstore joke: "I've got the idea for the perfect escape room. You're in a bookstore. You have 60 minutes to escape while spending less than $50. Good luck!"

Everything in them was way overpriced last time I checked ~7yrs ago, probably due to low sales volume. I'm sure it's even worse now. No way I'm buying a lump of dead trees for $30 when it's $7 for the ebook unless it's something I'm really into having a collector's item for or something.

Maybe if browsing experiences are valuable, we can eventually start making websites have showrooms in VR. Too bad there's no smell-o-vision for the paper smell.

One of my first pick-ups as an adult in a bookstore was Gödel, Escher, Bach. People thought I was crazy for grabbing it. One of my friends was fascinated by it and I ended up giving it away. Hopefully he did good things with it!

gexia says>"One of my first pick-ups as an adult in a bookstore was Gödel, Escher, Bach... I ended up giving it away."<

You did the right thing, provided you didn't throw away part of your life reading that sludgepot of a book.

After reading GEB, I used it as a doorstop in a utility room. Probably still there, lying in wait for some fool to pick it up and get sucked into Hofstadter's voluminous prose. I would have burned it but burning GEB would take too long to be worthwhile. When I think of burning it I think of one of the old wood (and paper) -powered Volkswagens that the Germans used domestically during WWII:


search for "Mass-produced woodmobiles"

GEB might provide enough paper to drive out of Germany. Had the Germans made a "bullshit-powered" automobile they could have launched themselves into orbit with a single copy of GEB.

I am certain that, in a good bookstore, and had I the finances and shelf space, I could spend $10K in a short afternoon. Less certain is whether I'd ever actually read them all but I'd darn well aspire to read them.

Likewise. I'm highly guilty of tsundoku,[1] but I can just never find the time to read everything I want :(

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsundoku

Oh! Thank you for that term, tsundoku. It's perfect.

I found what I can confidently say is my favorite non-fiction book I've read in a while from randomly walking into a book store. I was meandering through the history section and found a book that went in great detail about Lawrence of Arabia titled (Lawrence in Arabia).

Looking forward to the day that can happen again.

I would say this is true of most retail experiences. It's easy enough to shop for exactly the things that you know you want. It's much harder to do discovery, to find alternatives or to creatively solve problems without 1) seeing options spread in front of you in the way you only get in a physical environment 2) having staff around you can ask. I'm thinking specifically in a hardware store like scenario. I know I have such and such a problem in my house but I'm not a contractor, but I am handy. Having someone right there that I can describe my problem too and how I'm thinking of solving it and having someone with some experience say "oh what you need is xyz, isle 4" is invaluable. You don't get that on amazon.

If you're concerned about the environment, browse at your local library. The energy cost in printing and shipping books is shocking: https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-09/amazons-kindl...

There's a Barnes & Noble in my town that's still open and does pretty good business considering it's the only one for hundreds of miles, and yeah, it's fun to browse through.

I buy almost nothing from there, though, except for the occasional gift. It's hard to come up with a good excuse to buy physical books for everyday reading when e-ink exists for reasonable prices with none of the storage concerns.

That's certainly true but how often do you really go to the bookstore in search of this thrill?

The keyword here is "browsing". That's better done at a physical bookstore than online.

But it's much more efficient to buy books online. I often went to a bookstore looking for some kind of book I couldn't find there but could have ordered immediately online.

I like doing both, at different times though.

Lol one things I liked to do is whenever I see secondhand bookstore/stalls... is browse for "The Ninja - Eric van Lustbader" one of my favourite books as a teenager... I usually find at least one of the books in this series. It reminds me that everything is still in place and ticking along as planned in this crazy world. It's just so consistently there !

Personally, I love reading books, but I find browsing in a bookstore to be a bad way of finding books to read. Most of the information you get about books is their promotional marketing copy, and looking at the cover. Maybe you get a small amount of information that was written by a bookstore employee, for a small subset of the books at the store. That just isn't very high-quality information about the books. It isn't a great way to absorb information about books.

Far better is reading things online that are written about books. Find someone you respect who recommended a list of books, or find a list of award-winning books. Go through that list, and read some other reviews of them. This is more intellectually engaging and interesting than walking through a physical bookstore.

Plus, when you find a book you're excited by, you can get it for your Kindle and start reading it immediately, rather than waiting until later. This means you can get a book that's a perfect fit for your mood when you're reading it.

Online reviews are not inherently more trustworthy than the marketing copy on the dust jacket. Online reviews can be bought (for very little money). A publisher can easily astroturf the reviews on their books, making it very difficult to establish the quality of a book from online reviews (search is hard when there is a lot of extraneous information). A good book store will provide recommendations (staff picks), which can be pretty spot on. Having an actual person who loves books giving a recommendation is high quality information.

Don't read the Amazon reviews. Read long-form reviews written by bloggers or book critics. Those reviews are generally better than those written by the staff at a bookstore.

Have you... have you never picked up a book in the bookstore, opened it, and started reading?

You can do that. Lots of bookstores have comfy chairs scattered all over to invite you to sit down and check out a book that caught your eye.

I disagree. Bookstores have people who curate the displays, which helps with discovery. If you go to a reputable bookstore (not a big box like Barnes and Noble), then you’ll probably discover something great. And regarding the “cover doesn’t tell you everything” point...that’s a valid concern, though you can always ask the booksellers about a book and a lot of times they’ll know about it better than a google search or blog.

Bookstores have people who curate the displays, which helps with discovery. If you go to a reputable bookstore (not a big box like Barnes and Noble),

Curious why you're excluding Barnes & Noble? In my experience, the B&N store by me is largely staffed by people who are readers and writers themselves; and they do curate displays and write recommendations, offer verbal recommendations, etc. Maybe other stores are different, but given the B&N near me, I find it to be equal to any of the local independent bookstores in that regard. And with the bonus of a much larger (though sadly shrinking) inventory, and an attached cafe.

i'm admittedly a bookstore snob

Even the chains can have quite excellent staff, though YMMV considerably.

After having consumed many ebooks, there is one unfortunate side-effect.

My memory/feel for a book seems to be partly tied to what I hold/the cover/the font. I love ebooks, but once I've finished one, I just don't have the same fondness/recollection of it afterwards anymore. This might be a very individual thing though.

I can spend hours in a used bookstore. I keep many of the books I am interested in on a list and I eventually find them on the shelves of a used book store. I usually come out with unexpected items as well. It is always a joy.

If you are ever in San Jose, CA please stop by and support the Recycle Bookstore. Great staff, a large collection and a couple cool cats.

If you ever find yourself in Detroit, Michigan, United States check out John K. King Bookstore, it is a giant warehouse of books

I recently read "How to Read a Book", the grand encouraging of pencil marking and personalizing books (especially expositions), and have come out on the other side wondering how giving books to friends will ever work moving forward. I just have to fork down more money to the publishers to share great thoughts and gift them.

I dunno. To me there seems something personal about sending forward a book with your own notes in it. Especially if you encourage the other person to comment on the notes, and then return it. Could be really neat to see their thoughts and how it changed, etc.

Being able pick a book up and flick through the pages is so much better than buying online. However the price difference really isn't worth it.

In the USA I really resent the people who fill B&N, reading books for 15+ minutes before returning them to shelves. WTF. Makes me feel like I'm paying for them.

I love bookshops but I don't know if enough people do for them to be sustained.

One thing is for sure: working tech people don't buy technical books in stores. The main bookshop in Dublin stocked a host of technical books for years. It was an odd mix, but they tried to curate it in a reasonable way. They would have things like K&R and odd volumes of TAOCP and Eloquent Javascript - as well iPhone 6 for dummies...

But they gave it up a year ago and now only stock things absolutely required for technical coursework in the University.

I'd love if there was a really well stocked, well curated technical bookshop in Dublin. I thought a shop like that with working terminals and a "learning" vibe would be lovely. But given what I've seen I don't think there's enough of a market.

Several bookstores have been sustaining themselves in Toronto for some time now. We've lost some old favourites over time like World's Biggest Bookstore [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_Biggest_Bookstore]

But there are several great ones that remain. Some offer online book shopping now, others require physical presence.

Some of my favourites, and as far as I know they're still doing well enough:

* BMV [http://www.bmvbooks.com]

* Zoinks! [https://zoinks.ca]

* Ayerego Books [https://www.ayeregobooks.com]

* ABC Bookstore [https://www.blogto.com/bookstores/abc-book-store-toronto/]

* Seekers Books [https://www.google.com/maps/place/Seekers+Books/@43.6657637,...]

* Ben McNally Books [https://benmcnallybooks.com]

* University of Toronto Bookstore [https://uoftbookstore.com] — Of course, we're lucky to have this one downtown. They have a large technical collection as well as pretty well any academic subject taught at U of T.

Virtually every tech / professional bookstore I'm aware of has folded. In the Bay Area, Stacey's (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=423524, Cody's (Berkeley), Books Inc. (Palo Alto, Univ. Ave.), and names since forgotten in Cupertino (another Stacey's possibly) and N. 1st Ave. in San Jose. As well as chains, notably Borders.

I imagine it'd be an inventory nightmare as well - online documentation barely keeps up with what's current. What do you do with last years books?

This is true of other brick and mortar stores too. Theres a pleasure in browsing without any intent to buy but with the surprise of finding something unexpected. I hope we’ll see a comeback to regualar stores. Plus all the shipping is a terrible waste, albeit very convenient

Meh, last time I was in a bookstore I found that the floor was being dominated by:

- school materials (pens, paper, rulers, glue etc. etc.)

- trash tier romance "novels"

- (auto-)biographies of all kinds of wastes of flesh (politicians, "comedians")

- the latest in teenager literature (Harry Potter, Twilight etc.)

But IMHO the straw that really broke the camels back was that the "Technik" (technical) section was reduced to one shelf about 0.5m wide x 2m tall filled with nothing but book(let)s on "how to learn touch-typing" and "how to teach my grandparents to use the computer". That section had just a few years prior been a whole corner of that store filled with all kinds of learning materials on programming, computer science, electrical engineering and the like.

What a collossal decline...

For about a decade, I used to live very close to a Barnes and Noble, and almost as close to a Half-Price Books used book store. I'd go to each about once a week and browse around. Bought loads of books from Half-Price books (probably more than 1000 over 10 years), and a handful from Barnes and Noble. Definitely found lots of books I never would have found on Amazon. OTOH, there are lots of books I've bought from Amazon that I couldn't find in either of those bookstore either, but those tend to be specialized. I never browse Amazon for books, I wouldn't even know how to do that in any way that wasn't just a pain in the ass.

Maybe check out https://littlefreelibrary.org/ we grab books on walks and leave any books we enjoy but no longer want.

especially a used bookstore.

Yes, preferably one overflowing with books stacked on every possible flat surface, just the right amount of disorganization that people can find something cool that they never would have even looked for.

I am amazed... 2 bookstores near me: one that is a 2nd and Charles, a huge used bookstore chain, and huge stores; and another local used bookstore that is wall-to-wall, crammed with books, not a spare cranny. So easy to get lost in though and intrigue, just a delight.

It seems like a lot of people in this thread might be interested in a place like Bunkitsu:


It's a bookstore in Tokyo that actually charges an admission fee, but it looks like a great place to spend a whole day around books.

I recently learned of https://bookshop.org/, which is a website that pays out part of their earnings to local bookstores. As someone who loves local shopping and wants to see us move away from an economy ruled by a few mega tech corps, this seems like a happy medium that retains the convenience of online shopping while retaining local, independent stores.

I make a point of shopping at our local bookstores, even though they are not always the convenient option, just to help keep them around.

I do wish bookstores focused more on their discovery and curation. For example, I’d probably buy a lot more books if they had a “if you liked this <popular book>, you might also like <less popular book1>, ...”

I even suggested this to our local bookstore but got a confused, blank stare :-(

One thing my local bookstore does that I enjoy is the "Blind Date". They wrap a book in craft paper and write a short description on it.

They're usually slightly less popular, but still good books.

I have been using electronic books much less lately. I have come to the conclusion that it is nice to read a real book that when you are done with you can give to a friend to read.

Or sell the books you are done with.

It is also a shame that the e-book industry seemed to try their hardest to make getting an e-book from the library on your reader nearly impossible or outright super confusing.

I use a Rakuten Kobo and - luckily - my local library's books are accessible via a service called OverDrive.

It's the predatory practices of the publishing industry that stop us from giving our ebooks to a friend to read: DRM stops us from sharing what we have purchased, and in many jurisdictions it is illegal to circumvent.

On the other hand, I always have my full book collection with me on my phone. This is priceless, especially if you travel a lot.

As for DRM... Well I lost my entire collection because I moved abroad, and many of the books I love aren't available here. I just resorted to piracy. I never struggled to use an e-book again.

Hate to say it, but I've been using Amazon for 2 decades simply because I buy a lot of specialized books - the kind that aren't in most physical stores, or French language books (the selection here is very small). I do enjoy bookstores but most simply cater to the masses and it's probably a tough business for them to be in as well.

The bookshops I know (in Germany) have an excellent ordering service, especially the academic bookshops in my university town.

I used to order everything via Amazon, but eventually I figured I wanted to support one of our lovely little local bookshops, so I buy all my books there now. They rarely have the books I want, so I still have to order (via them), but it's almost as fast as Amazon, if not always quite as cheap. But I love the old ladies that run it, and simply dropping in for a chat with them is worth the extra cost and effort :-)

I can't handle most new book stores, places like chapters and stuff, but I love browsing through used book stores. You never know what you're going to find. I've found some pretty cool old books tucked away in random places. First editions or other rare things or just books you'd never find anywhere else, even online.

Yeah, used book stores can be fantastic. You find things you've never heard of, and didn't know you wanted.

There are really nice public libraries in Norway, so no need for the bookstores, they are also interconected so you can ask for any book that any other library has and it cones in a few days, and if they do not have it they are usually happy to buy as per one suggestion. No used book stores like in latin America though!

I thoroughly enjoy going to Indigo to browse their somewhat dated Software Dev. Books. I always find something that could be interesting in there. And I have to say that buying a book physically makes me commit to that purchase waaaaay more thank any ebook.

Support your local store by shopping there and they will be around tomorrow. Even if you get a little less for your money you get a greater experience than buying everything online. Plus you support local jobs and communities.

How can you love reading and not appreciate a well curated bookshelf whether at someone's home, or a bookshop?!

The sheer joy of browsing Hatchards... last time I visited I found a first English edition of Proust and I just had to have it.

There’s something about the physical manifestation of a catalogue that’s very enticing.

I would say browsing a magazine rack, a book store, a VHS store, a clothes rack are all much more engaging than online. Could VR help here?

Introducing all prices only in computer scanners removed deliberately all the fun in my opinion. Seems carefully designed with the main purpose in mind to discourage customers to buy. It is stupid by design

I used to love browsing book stores. But over the years, the subjects that I was interested in got less and less shelf space, and today it's just not worth even going.

Printing books in bulk may not survive the epidemic. When I order "paperback books" from Amazon now, I usually get something from the print-on-demand system.

"Printing books in bulk" has survived quite a few epidemics in the past 500 years... Why do you think this one is different?

There are better alternatives. And far fewer bookstores willing to stock inventory.

Amazon really wants you to buy a download for Kindle, which costs them little, rather than ship a physical book, which they have to buy and warehouse.

Find a big thrift store near a big university. Slightly old and decades old textbooks for $3.50 . Plus interesting books.

I would like to browse a bookstore made only of books that you could not find online , or anywhere else really.

Or anywhere else? This is starting to sound like Borges.

Go to a shop that sells antiques.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a novel that bookshop lovers might enjoy.

Nostalgia run amok. This is why the world advances when people die.

Its true. I love browsing through the bookstore or libraries. No online experience can replace that. The potential for discovering something new to read and learn is the main contributor for this thrill. I like randomly picking a book from some section that I never been to and read it for a while to get a gist. I may or may not end up buying but that small gist brings me immense pleasure

Note:I'm not able to read the article because of paywall

I usually browse bookstores, take pictures of books that look interesting then download them in pirated form.

Half Price Books FTW

Or McKay's Used Books in the east.

Not as good as the Half Price Books on North Lamar in Austin, but nothing much is.

I can't read this due to the subscription paywall, but a couple of thoughts on the topic:

I feel like nobody has really tried to emulate a bookstore. Instead, everyone online focuses so hard on selling, largely by "you like X, so you'll like "X', X'', and X'''".

Even only browsing by genres only ever shows the popular books, and some of those popular books show up in whichever genres they can shoehorn them into, leading to bland and repetitive experiences.

I guess that ultimately here's a thrill not because bookstores are somehow not special, but because it's easy to get past the 'Bestseller' advertising and into, pardon the pun, novel territory.

BetterWorldBooks.com is the closest to feeling like a bookstore in website form. But overall I agree, I love the idea of trying to capture the sense of serendipity and staff recommendations. It's tricky, since you can't "wander around" a website.

Books are the most human thing we have: they're literally paper bricks that contain peoples' thoughts. It feels like we're missing something to present them online in the same way we sell socks.

Good bookstores are so rare, Powell's is about the only one worth visiting. Chain bookstores sell so much pulp, garbage, remaindered coffee table books about cats, etc.

There's no replacement for the thrill of driving a manual gear, but in US it's almost impossible to find one.

So I guess it depends.

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