Our Reading Lives

My Most Mundane Post-Pandemic Bookish Fantasy

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

Throughout this long year-that’s-been-a-decade, most of us have whiled away an afternoon dreaming of what we’ll do when it’s over. Many people have elaborate travel itineraries or plans to condense a year of lost parties into a truly scandalous weekend. Even those of us who were never much for going outside or seeing people have likely had socialization cravings that became dreams of the kind of human contact that a responsible person in a pandemic doesn’t pursue.

Now that the vaccine rollout in the U.S. is going strong (and those of us in countries like Canada look on longingly, with a hand pressed against the glass), those fantasies are beginning to look like things with real dates attached to them. Of course, outside the western world, many countries have no clear timetable for when they’ll be able to get vaccines, leaving them in limbo. In the coming months, the gap between the global rich’s experience of the pandemic and that of the global poor is going to grow even wider.

Gambler types, especially in the U.S., are already booking flights based on projections. (We don’t talk about the people who have been traveling for pleasure this whole time. I choose not to acknowledge their existence.) But despite more than a year indoors, I remain a simple, indoorsy, bookish type. While I count down the months to my first vaccine (hopefully July?), my post-pandemic fantasies are small…but they consume me.

Lately, I’ve been having a recurring daydream of alphabetizing books at Value Village. I realize that this is…concerning. Especially as my go-to post-pandemic fantasy. But let me explain! For one thing, it’s understandable that at this point, our collective nerves are shot. We’ve all sought out comfort in our own ways. I watch bookish bullet journal videos because they give me the illusion of order. In the same way, there’s something very satisfying to my brain about the idea of taking an aisle’s worth of out of order books and putting them into neat alphabetized rows.

books on brown wooden shelf
Photo by Jenny Kalahar on Unsplash

Besides, this isn’t a new phenomenon for me. In fact, it’s a pattern that’s been there my whole life. When I was a small child, my mom admonished me for pulling all the books off the shelves at a thrift store and making a mess. I looked up at her in horror. “But Mom! I’m organizing them!” Far from trying to make a mess, I could not allow that bookcase to be in disarray, even if it was in a dusty back corner of a thrift store, even if it meant taking off all the books to start from scratch.

As a teenager, my second job was working at a bookstore. (My first job was baking dog treats, but that’s another story.) I would go on to spend ten years working at bookstores, most of that in a used bookstore. When coworkers complained about the tedium of shelving books, and I would look at them askance. That’s the job! I thought peevishly. Why would you work at a bookstore if you didn’t want to shelve books? In reality, I spent most of that decade hoping for a slow day so I could avoid all that pesky customer interaction and concentrate on the important stuff: shelving. (News flash to past Danika: Why would you work in a bookstore if you didn’t want to help customers?)

In my last few months of working in the store, before I pursued teaching (in the hopes of becoming a school librarian), we were just about to move locations — thankfully, into a building with a lot more space. In the meantime, the fiction room was ringed in knee-deep stacks of books that didn’t fit on the shelf. I spent that summer going around the entire perimeter of the room, alphabetizing stacks, checking them against the titles on the shelves, and creating neat piles. When the piles began to disappear as stock get sent over, I did another lap, filling any gaps on the shelves I could find. I think I shelved that entire room’s perimeter three times over before I left. To be clear: no one asked me to do this. I just…really wanted to.

bookstore shelves, with stacks on the floor
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

The urge to organize bookshelves is familiar. And the idea of slowly, steadily turning chaos into order until I can stand back and admire the finished product is immensely soothing to my frayed nerves. But there’s one other piece to why this is a post-pandemic dream: I miss lingering in public. I miss aimlessly puttering around. Let’s be honest — I have never gotten out much. But I miss lazily browsing aisles, whether at a bookstore or a new grocery store. I miss not having a countdown clock in my head every time I leave the house, calculating whether the extra time spent is worth the risk.

Part of this fantasy is the idea of spending time in public frivolously. Wasting time while surrounded with people for the idle joy of it. Without purpose, without reason, just…on a whim. In this dream, I feel no threat or fear of being around people. I’m also not directly socializing with anyone. The people are a pleasant background hum — neither threat nor feature. I miss that comforting anonymity almost as much as being around the people I love — maybe more, because I’ve been able to have outdoor, distanced gatherings with friends and family, but I haven’t ever been able to drop that guard.

So that’s why I’m dreaming of alphabetizing books in a thrift store while some people make grand vacation plans (and others are nowhere near the plan-making stage). What are your post-pandemic bookish fantasies, whether or not they are anywhere near to being reality? Visiting the best bookstores around the world? Going on an international puzzle book treasure hunt? Or just being able to read at the park or coffee shop worry-free?