For a browser, like me, such bookshops should be
of a size to investigate thoroughly,
in an hour or so; any longer, I know
all sense of self, of meaning, will go.
A feeling of unease turns into fear;
I begin to question what I am doing here.
So many shelves searched, and so many more;
but what, exactly, am I looking for?
Books have always formed my identity,
the act of reading is a necessity,
but I drift, I flounder, in a surging sea;
how shallow my interests appear to be,
as the ocean of books cascades around me.
Don’t know what I want; don’t know what I’ve read.
The waves converge, and cover my head.
Books, and reading, have always been a pivotal part of my life, as have bookshops and libraries. In my student days at Cambridge, there used to be Brown’s Bookshop, only a few minutes’ walk away from the college. It was a fairly small bookshop, which used to sell both new and second-hand books. The second-hand section was at the back of the shop, and I used to relish browsing through it, looking for my next “find”. It must have been Brown’s Bookshop that turned me into a lover of second-hand bookshops, but I’ve had a few chastening experiences in such shops in recent years. I visited a friend in Carlisle, who took me to the largest second-hand bookshop in the country, and I found the experience completely alienating and unsettling. It resulted in generating two contrasting poems, the first of which is the one above.