Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When Did I Get Like This?

I just spent a lengthy vacation in Honolulu, which is, by many orders of magnitude, the largest city in Hawaii. I assumed that it would have at least a few bookstores to roam, and didn't think too hard until I got there about where I would browse for books when I got the urge (not that I needed to, since my suitcase was fully one-third packed with books). In fact, I forgot that I would have the urge to browse for books. I had it in the back of my mind that I'd look for bookstores and/or the nearest library as soon as I got my bearings, just for fun, but I forgot that I would start to feel strange, unmoored, feverish, and claustrophobic if I couldn't find a house-of-books pretty soon. I visited a chain bookstore in the mall to ease the pain, but it wasn't my fix. I found the downtown library, and sat on a shelving stool in the B's of fiction, devouring Aimee Bender's Willful Creatures until my time was up. But I was a visitor and couldn't get a library card (are there visitor library cards? I didn't actually check). I knew I'd need to have books to carry around, and I'd made the terrible decision to bring too many serious and dark books with me to a beautiful place. The mood didn't fit, I needed a refill, I needed to wander some stacks, and I was getting itchy.

I had mistakenly anticipated stumbling upon bookstores accidentally on a regular basis, like I do in San Francisco, but this city required a search. Thank the internet for IndieBound, which you should use if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. IndieBound has a big red button on their website that says "FIND BOOKSTORES and other indies" and when you click on it (or on that link, you're welcome lazies) you can enter your address or zip code, a radius (50 miles, for example) how many results you want, and BAM! out pops a list of independent bookstores near you. I had known about this theoretically, but had never had to use it, and was both heartened and a little worried to see one result for my whole island: Rainbow Books & Records, near the U of H at Manoa. I mapped a bus route and went forth to smell pages (cliche or not, you know we all actually do it).

This is what I found:

A little shop hidden in a strip mall, tall messy shelves painted in rainbow order (the store was too small for me to get red in the frame) with stacks of books in front of and on top of them. There were a couple of scattered stepladders, almost no other customers, and they were playing The Cure. It was heaven. Even though they shelve all their books horizontally (seriously, what?), it was fun to wander through, or rather to spend hours wandering, touching favorite spines and almost giggling with relief at finding those friends sitting, waiting for me to see them, waiting for me to hold them and open them, waiting for me to take them home. I was lucky to have instant text message access to a friend who could recommend the perfect mass market mysteries, and I had to search through pile after pile to find the right ones. The kids section had somehow merged with humor which had bled into graphic novels, so I was finding Pippi Longstocking next to Margaret Cho next to Marjane Satrapi, which I can't say feels entirely wrong. Without meaning to, my eye would catch on local authors— Sherman Alexie, David Guterson, and I almost whispered "Hi" out loud. I found books I was compelled to take down and find certain pages in, reading poems I already know almost by heart. It was more comforting than I'd ever expected.

I know I work in a bookstore, and I know I've always loved reading and books, but I have no idea when I became this sort of a person: I cannot feel comfortable without regular access to a decent bookstore. And even though it makes me feel a little crazy, it also feels sort of like a passport to calm. It's a secret thrill to know when I set foot in the door, no matter what city I'm in, that I'll feel a little bit home.

So mahalo for saving me, Rainbow Books & Records (they don't have their own website, as far as I can tell, so I can't link to them). If you're ever on Oahu and need an indie bookstore fix, they are, like us, located on University (Ave, not Way), which I found very amusing. Aloha!

-Anna, kids books

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