Do bookstores give you anxiety?

I’m going to be honest with you: pretty much everything gives me anxiety these days. Anxiety is all around me and in me. I can feel it like a foreign body under the skin. I wallow in it. I medicate and self-medicate against it. But it envelops me like I’m a litter of unwanted kittens and it’s a burlap sack weighted with stones being tossed off a bridge. I want to not be anxious, and I can even see a life of free of anxiety just over there, but I can’t quite commit to getting there. I live in anxiety the way a prehistoric fish with proto-legs lives in water: I can see the shore, but I’m just not ready to leave the water for very long.

All that said, the last thing that could possibly give me anxiety is a room full of books. But to each their own, I guess.

I’ve reached the point in life where my relationship with bookstores is—how to put this?—well, it’s complicated. I love the idea of bookstores. I smile when I see their bright windows on a block. I talk about a new bookshop like normal people talk about newborns. And after the global pandemic loosens its grip on New York, I know one of the first things I’ll do is visit a bookstore in my neighborhood. In my imagination, this means spending a long lazy afternoon browsing shelves and flipping the pages of dozens of new books. There’s just one problem: I long ago ceased to enjoy bookstores. Even before the pandemic, I couldn’t spend more than a few minutes inside one without wanting to leave; no, without wanting to flee, shoulders hunched, like a child caught trespassing.

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