The Once and Future Noble

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hours of the UniverseIt’s a good feeling, knowing exactly what you want and exactly where to find it. It’s satisfying to know that you can walk into a store and ignore all of the things that some other sucker will get tricked into buying. For weeks, I’d been reading reviews of Chad Harbach’s first novel, The Art of Fielding, and I knew that I wanted it. Giddy with anticipation, I decided I wouldn’t take any chances on an independent bookseller’s quixotic taste for what promised to be an exciting read. This was a job for Barnes and Noble.

You may not know, but Barnes and Noble allows its customers to browse its shelves without even walking through its doors - pretty handy if you’re the sort of person who likes to avoid such rigors as driving, looking both ways to cross the street, or putting on pants. All that’s required of the customer is a visit to the B&N website, a search by title, author name or keyword, and a zip code. With that information, the B&N customer is given a list of stores within a preset radius and an option to reserve the book if it’s in stock or a big, red OUT OF STOCK notification if it is, in fact, out of stock. As fate would have it, my local B&N had sold all their copies of Mr. Harbach’s novel.

Undaunted, I checked daily, hourly even. I imagine that I was more concerned with this B&N’s inventory than even its most diligent store manager. I was singular in my determination. Days the length of years passed. Finally, a truck carrying the book I yearned for arrived at the loading dock. I reserved my copy to be held at the counter for 48 hours and registered to be alerted by text message and email when the book had been placed safely behind the counter. 30 minutes, a nearly simultaneous ring, flash, and buzz later, my cell phone and computer screen confirmed that my copy of The Art of Fielding had been removed from the conspicuous "New in Hardcover" table - like a puppy pulled from the cage at the animal shelter - and set apart for me to take it home. 

After work, I strolled, brimming with confidence, to the bookstore. I met a friend in the street whose love of books and baseball drew her to the title, too, and I bragged of my imminent purchase.  I left her jealous and hummed the final bars of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as I strode up to the doors. I stepped around the "Nook" display at the store’s entrance and ignored the salesman who refused to see that I was indifferent to his digital wares. "I’m here for your dead trees and ink, good sir. You need not waste your breath on me." There it was on the "New Arrivals" table: white lettering on royal blue background. Simple, elegant, and nearly mine.

Not wishing to appear overzealous, I wandered the aisles of the store as if contemplating an additional purchase. Amidst works of fiction, I discovered a table marked “Thought provoking…” Still basking in the glow of my acquisition, I chuckled to myself as I picked up a copy of Ted, White, and Blue, Ted Nugent’s bestselling “Nugent Manifesto.” Thought provoking, indeed. "Enough," I said aloud as I  sauntered to the front of the store, startling the bookwormish undergraduate hunched over the "Local Authors" table. En route, I encountered the "Featured Authors" table, piled high with the work of Chelsea Handler, with whom I am only lately familiar. As I passed a "Beatles" table, I nearly gave into the urgent and hitherto latent desire for a Yellow Submarine lunchbox. Invited to approach the counter at last, I informed my summoner that he was caretaker to an item that I wished to purchase (at the discounted online price and the additional ten percent discount afforded B&N members).

Leaving the store, the magic dissipated. The book was mine now. I had employed little energy or ingenuity obtaining it. I knew precisely what I wanted and where to get it. A satisfying experience indeed, but a safe satisfaction that did not contain the romance and delight of discovering something unexpected. I’m sure I’ll read The Art of Fielding, and I’m sure I’ll find it at least as thought provoking as Ted, White, and Blue. But for now, it sits on my nightstand, waiting to shake the weight of "New Arrival" status.