How Barnes & Noble Prepared Me for Life After High School

I’ve always been an avid reader, and in 8th grade I identified myself as a lover of classic literature.  Whether or not that was a good thing may be up for discussion, but it was fact.  My junior and senior year of high school, there was a Barnes & Noble directly on my route.  I drove right past it twice a day.  When I needed a new book to read, that’s where I would go.  I usually headed right to the upstairs table filled with summer reading books assigned by area schools, because it was a collection of good literature that I hadn’t read yet.  I would also frequent the “Barnes & Noble Classics” display for the same reason.  I knew the entire floor plan of the store – the literature, the mythology section, Shakespeare, poetry, drama – I knew exactly where to find everything I wanted.  I loved it.

Bookshelves 3 stories

This is beautiful. Just sayin’. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The summer after I graduated high school I got a job as a pool operator at a hotel.  I spent 10 hours a day sitting next to an often-empty pool, and if there wasn’t anyone to guard in the pool, I read.  It rained a lot that summer, so I did a lot of reading.   That same Barnes & Noble was on my route again, so I would frequently stop in to pick up a new book.  I had a friend who worked at the attached Starbucks, and he passed me free coffee drinks whenever his manager wasn’t watching.  I was at the bookstore so often that a sales guy began to recognize me, befriended me, and was soon giving me his employee discount on my purchases.  It got to the point that on any given day, I could enjoy a fancy coffee drink and leave with my choice of book, only spending a total of a few dollars.  It was dangerously addictive.  For an English nerd like me, it was glorious.  And even though I didn’t recognize it at the time, it was my emotional salvation.  

Twelfth grade was a difficult year for me (see my posts “On Teen Angst” and “Pretty Girls are People, Too” for more on that).  As I prepared for my first year of college, there was a lot that I needed to mentally process that my friends and parents wouldn’t understand – my friends because they couldn’t, and my parents because I wouldn’t let them.  It was a summer of quietly separating myself from the world that held an unrealistic perspective of me and the “popular smart girl” persona it expected me to maintain.  Barnes & Noble became my escape.  It was the one place I could go and sit in quiet without having to worry about a boss, a parent, or a sibling coming in to disturb my ponderings.  Of course, I wasn’t a complete recluse.  I spent many enjoyable nights with my friends, celebrating our last summer before we headed off to college.  But the hours alone at Barnes & Noble were vital to me that summer.

For Such a Time as This: Your Identity, Purpose, and Passion

One of the many books that helped get me through that time. (Image credit: barnesandnoble.com)

No one in my life knew it, but in addition to browsing the literary classics, I spent hours sitting cross-legged on the floor in the religion section, soaking up the message of Christian authors like Lisa Ryan, Dannah Gresh, Shannan Ethridge, and Stephen Arterburn.  They reached out to the soul of a teenage Christian girl trying to find her place in a secular world, and they understood me when the rest of the world didn’t.  A senior year full of social insecurities, broken and recovered hearts, and mostly, the world of fear and hospitals that set me apart from everyone I knew – they all had taken their toll on me.  My nerves were frayed and needed time to be soothed back in place though the hours of quiet meditation.  A strange, unidentifiable distance had formed between me and those people closest to me, and I needed to allow myself to accept it.  It wasn’t unusual for me to spend five hours at a time among the quiet shelves of Barnes & Noble, soul-searching, praying, and thinking.  And when I was done with that, my reliable literary classics offered me respite and quiet enjoyment.

As I prepared to leave behind my high school life and move away from home, I mentally pulled away from my family and friends – not because I wanted to or disliked them, but because it was what I needed to do.  Without my hours at Barnes & Noble, that process could have been easily more destructive and painful, but as it was, the physical isolation of the bookshelves gave a safe outlet to the emotional process.  It was so subtle that I doubt few, if any, of the people close to me noticed.  I valued my active social life just as much as the hours of quiet.  I spent just as many hours in deep discussions with my friends about life, faith, morality, and country music.  Through both the discussions and the isolation, I was preparing to leave, preparing to grow into the adult I would eventually become, even though I had no idea who that would be.  I think I knew that summer that I would never move back for good.  I think I knew that the person I would become was someone very different from the valedictorian-prom-queen girl I’d been in high school.  I let go of her between the shelves of the Barnes & Noble.

Several editions of the "Barnes & Noble C...

I still love the classics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of that summer, both my friend at Starbucks and my connection in the Barnes & Noble sales department quit their jobs simultaneously.  With the enablers of my coffee-and-books addiction gone, my trips to the bookstore reduced in regularity, and then I headed off to college myself.  It’s been 10 years since that summer, but Barnes & Noble has always continued to be a special place, always been more than just a bookstore.  It is a place for girl-time hangouts, shopping for curriculum, and one of the few materialistic indulgences that I allow myself sometimes.  And there are still times that I will stop in for absolutely no specific reason except to enjoy the quiet and spend some time in my own thoughts.

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11 thoughts on “How Barnes & Noble Prepared Me for Life After High School

  1. great post! I was actually more of a Borders person back in high school and even during post college days. It was a good getaway from worldly problems and a chance for me to indulge in things out of this world. I’m glad it was a great outlet for you doing those times. I feel like that interest is slowly starting to fade in the younger generations.

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    • Thank you! I hope it isn’t fading from them yet. There’s something therapeutic about being between those bookshelves. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s experienced it.

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  2. I could spend hours in a bookstore when I was younger-in high school and college. I felt so at peace as soon as I walked through the doors, I’d just wander through the store trying to find the perfect book. I didn’t have to worry about anything else, and nothing beats the smell of books. Thanks for writing this and bringing me back to those days when I could get lost without guilt 🙂

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  3. As always, so well written! I am a mom of 3; two teens and a toddler. They all enjoy B&N immensely! There is something about bookshelf aisles that cannot be beaten; the peace, the comfort, the coziness… Even though we are kindle users, we can relate to your descriptions above. Back in upstate NY, the girls and I had what they called ‘Mommy love day’; when on Saturday mornings, the 3 of us would head to Barnes & Noble for a hot chocolate at Starbucks, followed by a good and long book browsing 🙂 Thanks for bringing that time back and for always speaking so well of teenagers, I love them too!

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  4. Love this post! I loved reading how God met you and reached out to you in someplace like Barnes and Noble. God has no limits. Thanks for sharing your story – very poignantly written. (Borders was lifechanging for me, but for different reasons. I met my husband there – in the Christian book section, both of us looking at CS Lewis books! 😉

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  5. Bookstores are terrific. Unfortunately, they keep going out of business. And I’m sure your love of classic literature made the required readings lists significantly more inviting than many of your peers.

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  6. I’m 18 and I’d like to think that I’m a good representation of the millenials. When I announce to my family that I’m going to Barnes & Noble, everyone simultaneously refuses to come along because they know it’ll be a multi-hour affair and that they’ll be ready to leave LONG before I am… If I could have it my way, print books would live forever! I say this to give hope to people who fear losing them when the younger generation grows up, though I must say that I’m afraid they’ll go extinct soon as well… Loved this post, thanks so much!

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