I spent more time browsing in actual bookstores in 2021 than in any year prior, for no reason other than that I could. The preceding stretch of absence felt like a dress rehearsal for an unsavory timeline in which brick-and-mortar shops ceased to exist. I did not like it. But after a year of lockdown, my family rallied to the collective thrill of leaving our home to visit some other place for an extended period of time, and the joy of browsing was real.

Such was my mind-set upon holding books in my aggressively sanitized palms, whenever a cover caught my interest. Left unconsidered, it’s easy for books to look like dressed-up bricks. Online, it’s easier still for a great book cover to vanish in the clamor of everything else vying for attention. But in their natural habitat, on the shelf or on a bookstore table, these covers called to be held and explored even more than the other appealing possibilities stacked nearby. They radiated mystery and devotion to their subjects, and I was grateful just to see them in a physical space, to be standing in front of books again — well apart from the detached confines of a screen. And so I did. Because I could.

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