Day 9: An ode to my happy place

Though school starts in February in Costa Rica, I still think of September with that back-to-school fondness, aided by the fact that this cool, rainy month does give me some autumn vibes. And what better place to celebrate back to school than a cozy independent bookstore?

If you’re reading this, you almost assuredly love bookstores. You might even own one, and if not, you’ve definitely imagined yourself owning one, probably in a picturesque fishing village where you would wear hand-knitted sweaters and gaze out at the storm-tossed sea in between customers (right? I’m not the only one, am I?). So I’m not convincing anyone here. But this is a love that had gotten away from me, and when I wandered into La Librería Andante for the first time in a long while – it’s a gorgeous, lovingly curated little bookstore in the university district near my house – I felt so many knots inside me come loose. In a world of noise, it’s a quiet place; in a fast world, it encourages you to move slowly and to browse, which is such a lovely, relaxing and somnolent word, browwwwse; in a world of technology, it is timeless; in a world of foolishness, it is an oasis of wisdom and beauty. As I wandered through its offerings, I set myself the second challenge of this year (the first being to get to know more artists): to visit all the local bookstores I can find, and to redirect as much of my shopping to them as I possibly can.

Why is the bookstore or the library more magical than being surrounded by our own bookshelves at home? I think it’s the sense of possibility. If books have altered the course of the life or the way you see the world in the past, then standing in a bookstore makes your nerves tingle, because you know that the next game-changer might be within your reach at this very moment. It could be behind that beautiful, glossy cover over there. It could be wedged into an undignified corner of the used book stacks. You might find it today – you might not. You might walk right past it, not knowing. But it’s there, and that’s such a comfort. As the poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes put it (oh yeah, I’m just nerding all the way out today – it’s that bookstore air), there’s “something holy in the darkness… and as rich moonlight may be to the blind, unconsciously consoling.”

If you can, go to a bookstore or a library this week and bask in that consolation, that knowledge that whether you read them today or this year or not, there are wise words waiting for us. There’s something holy in the darkness. Tucked away, bound and covered but ready to break free at any moment – there is light.

(If you’re a sucker for an incredible library story, check out “The Gift of a Public Library” by Deborah Fallows in The Atlantic, featuring beautiful libraries doing the impossible to keep their doors open in small towns including my mother’s: Eastport, Maine.)

La Librería Andante, San Pedro, San José, Costa Rica.
Katherine Stanley Obando

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook!

6 thoughts on “Day 9: An ode to my happy place

  1. This was a wonderful post to wake up to. I can relate to everything, including September as being the “back-to-school, start-of-season” feel. Libraries, bookstores, my own cluttered bookcases and boxes of books I have yet to find homes for are things that bring me joy! Thanks for sharing your special way of looking at things and the unique way you write.


  2. I enjoyed the tag for this post in my feed (the beginning of the third paragraph), and was discussing it with a colleague yesterday. She agreed with you that the sense of potential and discovery makes a bookstore or a library exciting, but that the comfort of a home library is also beneficial: the warm familiarity of being surrounded by shelves of context and personal history may not be energizing in the same way, but it has its benefits.

    Whereas I would counter that I have so many piles of unread books in my library — acquired over years, if not decades — that my home library has begun to acquire bookstore-esque potential as I trip over a book I’d forgotten I even had or discovering the uncut gem of a new favorite book as a gift from my past self in a cairn of to-read books on a corner table. That glow, that light of which you speak may be quietly exuding warmth already at home.


  3. Benjamin, as I was writing that line I thought about the stack of unread books that is waiting for me at home, too! In fact, I was trying to think of the right metaphor for the home library vs. bookstore and couldn’t quite find it. Something along the lines of being surrounded by old friends, or going out to a party, except that doesn’t quite work because I find parties kind of stressful. At any rate, I fully agree – being surrounded by books is wonderful no matter where you are.


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