Cheap Self-Awareness in Other People’s Misery

I saw at the end of a book review in The Guardian, a link to buy the book itself, along with the book’s price: £7.99. Immediately, unexpectedly, I found myself flooded with nostalgia.

When I first moved to Aberdeen to attend art school, I was 19 years old and devastatingly lonely; I was a shy person, completely lacking in confidence and convinced that the rest of the world wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I’d moved across the country to a city where I knew no-one and hadn’t built any new social structures yet, and I was lodging in the spare room of an alcoholic old woman who made me so uncomfortable that I locked my door as soon as I was home and tried to spend as little time as possible in her presence.

My safe space in those first months was the bookshop.

I’d love to tell you it was this quirky independent bookshop run by fascinating people with equally fascinating life stories, but that’s not true; it was part of the Waterstones chain, and everyone working there seemed somewhat bored by the job. But I loved it, nonetheless. On Saturdays, I’d spend hours in there, leafing through books I’d heard of and those I hadn’t, picking up random things based on if the cover caught my eye or if the title was strange and interesting. I remember the displays and the filled bookshelves with a sense of awe and excitement even now.

And this is why the review pushed all of this into my head: the books were under £10 for the most part — not the hardcovers, of course, they were a special occasion thing — and so seemed affordable and a reasonable cost of discovering new things. I bought so many books in that first year in Aberdeen, all because I was in love with the way that bookshop made me feel, and found out so much about my taste and myself in the process. It was a journey of small, affordable, self-discovery; just not the traditional one people experience in their first year of college.

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