Reading Potato Chips

Today I broke away from my computer and headed off to the local bookstore. I had three books on my list. One was Jim Butcher’s latest–SKIN GAME. The other two were baby books–GOODNIGHT MOON and something with LLAMA in the title.

I had a yard-long list of errands to run today. My plan was to whip into Barnes & Noble, grab the books, and whip out.

Ha! Like that was going to happen.

There’s a reason I don’t let always let myself browse in bookstores. Today, despite my hurry, once I hit the board book section (“Books for Little Hands”), I was a goner.

Years ago, I collected picture books. I sought out certain illustrators and went for the lavish, ornate ones. Before I knew it, I had a whole bookcase full of these marvelous stories. Eventually I moved to a house where there just wasn’t space for them. With great reluctance, I pared down my picture books to a cherished few and donated the rest to an elementary school.

Today, well aware of the pitfalls in the picture book section, I headed straight for the board books like a race horse wearing blinders. (Do not walk by the picture books. Do not check out the new arrivals in the YA section. Don’t peek at the middle-grade stories. No, no, no!)

I didn’t even have to scan the board book spines. The Llama books and GOODNIGHT MOON were prominently displayed as the bestsellers they are.

Now, I’m fully aware that GOODNIGHT MOON has been captivating kids forever. It’s mega-popular, and all new parents-to-be request it. It’s probably been read at more bedtimes than any other twentieth-century story I can think of.

Alas, I’ve never cared for it.

That’s not to disparage the book. It wasn’t written for me. I know it has huge appeal for its intended readership. Even so, I plucked it from the shelf, glanced at its pages, read its gentle text, and then put it back on the shelf. Why? I wasn’t buying it for me. All I had to do was buy it as a gift and be done.

But no … I next picked up a book that I used to own as a picture book. Even abridged for the board-book set, THE NAPPING HOUSE remains charming. Once I peeked inside, I was lost. I forgot my long list of errands. I forgot time. I had to look at more!

I browsed through little books about freight trains and dump trucks and caterpillars and polar bears and dancing hippos. I looked at puppy books and counting books and books with plots. I skimmed through books with colors and books with concepts but no words.

A friend of mine had told me PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was now in board-book format. It’s a counting book, very clever.

But I also found ROMEO AND JULIET. Really? And, perhaps most astonishing of all, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. For babies? Come on!

I had to open it, and it was all dark, brooding gothic illustrations and single-word pages. For example, one spread had a dark silhouette of a grandfather clock on the left page and huge bold letters on the right, spelling out “Ticking.” It wasn’t an abridgment of the story. It was just concepts.

Weird.

I didn’t look at ROMEO AND JULIET, but now my curiosity is afire and I wish I had.

Of course, I realize that these adult classic tales have been designed to delight the parent or grandparent or fond auntie who will buy it and present it to an eleven-month-old who could care less.

Even so. I was suddenly glad to go back to weighing the merits of THE RUNAWAY BUNNY versus a charming tale about a giraffe who learned to boogie.

Before I knew it, an hour had flown by. I had a hefty stack in my hands because how do you stop with just one of these charmers?

Problem was, I needed one gift, not a dozen. But buying books is like eating potato chips. How do you stop?

With great reluctance, I finally made my choice. I pushed my way out of the kids’ department, yet somehow on the way to the checkout stand I happened to walk past the mystery section. All the new cozies were faced out. Puns for titles were in full array.

Did I want to read about cat mysteries, dog rescue mysteries, or home improvement mysteries? What about mysteries set in libraries, quilt stores, knitting stores, coffee shops or bakeries? Did I fancy a new Alan Bradley or any of the new Alexander McCall Smith titles? What about Walter Mosley or James Lee Burke? I wanted them all!

Can you tell that I’ve been just a wee bit bookstore deprived lately?

I went in with a list of three titles. I came out with a sack-load of eight, along with the names of several authors unknown to me that I want to investigate further.

Where does it stop? How does it end?

When the checkbook–and the potato chip bag–are empty.

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