Meet your perfect match
It’s a rainy afternoon in Sydney city. Hands pine for hot drinks to wrap themselves around; necks are exposed to sharp gusts of chill. Pitt St is swept by cars brushing pools of water up the gutters and onto the ankles of passers by. Most shops are shut: cafes closed for the afternoon and restaurants not yet open for evening. But there’s a warm beacon enticing entry: Elizabeth’s Bookshop – and in its window are displayed contenders for a Blind Date With A Book.
The eligible bachelors and bachelorettes are wrapped in brown paper and tied with brown string. They have a cardboard tag attached, which homes a logo and lists a website. The packages are all the same size and shape. They’re books that can’t be judged by their covers because their covers aren’t visible: the choice, instead, is informed by cryptic plot points and descriptions scrawled in black texta on their fronts.
Every word, handwritten
There just aren’t that many bookstores left in Sydney – or anywhere, really. Rarer still are independently owned places located outside of shopping malls. A Techcrunch article from 2014 noted that during that year, there was approximately one new book listed every five minutes on Amazon, the massive online retailer that began as an online bookseller. Key to Amazon’s success is the social proof offered by the thousands of reviews left on its product listings, including its books. An unlimited choice of digital books contrasts completely with somewhere like Elizabeth’s Bookshop, where carefully vetted, physical titles occupy limited space in a high-rent shopping district.
Elizabeth’s Bookshop created the Blind Date With A Book concept in 2013. There are four Eizabeth’s Bookshops around Australia, and they stock a mix of new and used books, every title having earned its place and holding fort amongst the space reserved for topics like history, music, spirituality, and Eastern religion. Handwritten reviews are fixed to the front of chosen titles. There’s a guy behind the counter. He’s dreamy. You feel like you’re in good hands, and like the hands have written the reviews you can decide to trust or ignore.
Crowd sourced desire
Online, it’s really hard to buy a book without judging its cover, especially when there’s no finite selection of neatly bound and stacked books stuck on shelves to leaf through. With the internet, the world is your bookshelf. Google a title for more information and Amazon or Goodreads, owned by Amazon, will rank first in the listing. The reviews will be beside it, giving you the relative worth of the book, decided by the market and expressed through star ratings and thumbs pointing up and down. They can sway you one way or another, particularly when there are millions of alternatives that you’re not sure, but may just represent a better choice.
It’s a bit the same with people. We look them up on Facebook to see if we have mutual friends, or interests. We do our due diligence if we know we’re going to meet someone new. We might know all about a person before we even say hello, shake hands, or share a kiss on a cheek. Flying blind… isn’t it a little bit… risky? Isn’t it better to be prepared? We leave nothing to chance.
Except for chance encounters
There doesn’t seem to be a bad option. The choices are between phrases like ‘passion’, ‘deceit’, ‘loyalty’, and ‘monster carnage’, ‘pirates’. The handwriting for each is different, it’s authentic – it’s not just one person scribbling the same information on book after book. It’s not just a printer pretending. It’s really hard to choose. There’s so much promise hiding behind all of the words on all of the brown paper covers and, undoubtedly, even more inside. Books, like people, can change your life. It’s the meeting that decides how it’s going to go.
I choose the one that says ‘2008 financial crisis’ because the market has me by the heart. The brown paper is coarse, the string, rough and knotted.
I add it to a title about Buddhist monks fighting a fire that just sounds like the raddest read ever.
The dreamy guy at the counter takes my dollars and offers me a bag to keep my books safe from the rain.
I’m hotel bound.
Call it magic
I’m not keen to unwrap the brown paper, surprisingly. I want to savour the anticipation, the not knowing, for a little while longer. I don’t know what I’ve signed up for but I know that this uncertainty is a nice feeling.
There’s a double knot that I resign myself to undoing. There’s the edge of the paper to unstick. I’m careful not to rip through the words: financier; luxuries; tragic event; red hot scandal. A human wrapped and penned this decoration. A human entrusted it to me.
The book, when I open it, is not one that I ever would have chosen. The Darlings, by Cristina Alger, is not a title that I’ve ever noticed. I don’t know the writer; it’s not a business book, a personal development book; it’s not Stephen King or Harry Potter. It wouldn’t have made it to my cart. But it’s mine now. And it’s probably going to rule.
You’re my wonderwall
Maybe our access to information makes it more important than ever to leave things to chance, to keep believing in fate. Life’s a lot less interesting when you can just google the answers. It’s like seeing a fortune teller: it takes the magic away.
Maybe the book or the person you unwrap is something you never would have considered except for a well chosen description by a friend or trusted advocate. Ultimately, don’t we shake it off and follow our instincts anyway? Isn’t that what gets us in trouble, and isn’t that where the fun is?
When you get to the essence of something or someone, and see it for what it really is: when you’re connected, when you’re understood. It doesn’t matter what the cover looks like, or what the reviews say. It just matters that you go for it.