Uninhibited curiosity and bookstores

#random 2019-04-13

I bought a couple of books today.1

In the past few years, I've actually bought quite a bunch of books. Today was a completely different experience.

I wasn't on a mission to buy a specific book. I hadn't been searching online for "The best book on subject x". I hadn't been recommended a title by some community or expert. I hadn't been persuaded by an advertisement or a content marketer to get a new release. I didn't buy an ebook on my phone, or order a physical copy to be shipped from an online store.

I went to a bookstore with physical books, old and new, fresh and used.2 I browsed the peculiar collection - fine arts, photography, philosophy, science fiction, and more. The collection was highly organic: whatever the customers had brought in to resell, whatever the bookstore owner had wanted to find.

Why does this matter?

I felt it was an extraordinary experience to browse that bookstore. Uninhibited curiosity, exploring what is available around me, and purely focusing on what looks interesting to me. Just looking.3

In the modern era of social media, algorithmic advertising, referral based content marketing, memetic life-optimization and countless other phenomenon, it's easy to end up following someone else's decisions. "This is the best book for you", says your favourite hobby forum, in your search for improving your skills. "This book has major flaws", says the online review of a fiction book that you had initially thought as potentially interesting, but now dismissed and left unexplored. There's a lot of recommending and judgement out there. While those can perhaps be time-saving, they can also rob you of the joy of looking, and finding your own choices.

Go visit an old-fashioned used bookstore, maybe.


Which books exactly? Perhaps that doesn't matter that much given the main message of this post, but here goes anyway:

  • Annie Leibovitz: At Work
  • Robert Aitken: The Gateless Barrier - The Wu-Men Kuan (Mumonkan).

Forest Books in Japantown, San Francisco.


Allegory to mindfulness / meditation concepts completely intentional.