There was a time…back in the day…waaay back in the day…little bit more…right there where I’m a bundle of youthful optimism and enthusiasm (the only difference now being that youthful part). We had a routine in my family where we’d make a pilgrimage every other weekend from our rinky-dink town to a larger city nearby where they actually had a mall–fascinating place with shopping and toys and games and Chick-fil-a and books. I was a big fan of books, so while the rest of my family wandered the other stores, I went to the bookstore. But I wasn’t drawn to the novels or magazines there. I went straight to the spinner rack.

And I wasn’t the only one. At all times, there would be a half dozen or more kids there circling around the spinner rack and browsing through comics. And we had a blast. We’d talk about what’s happening with our favorite characters, point out different storylines that the others just had to check out, and discuss all kinds of things–movies, games, bikes, and other fun kid stuff. It was a social event that could go on for hours, and we’d enjoy every minute of it. Everyone there was enthusiastic about comics, and they weren’t afraid to tell everyone what was so cool about a book. Some people in the store would look at us funny, some would even try to distance themselves from us, but some would get intrigued and join us in conversation. Comics were fun to talk about, and if one person walked away from that spinner rack with a new book to try out, we were elated.

Then the spinner racks faded away, and the kids found some place else to congregate and socialize. Personally, I started spending more time in the arcade, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t buy quite as many comic books after that. Without all those recommendations of cool books I should try, I just kept to my normal books and didn’t deviate too much from that. The worst part though–I missed being a part of something special…something magical. A magic that disappeared from the world forever. At least that’s what I thought.

Late one Saturday night recently, I needed to pick up a book for some research, so I decided to check the Waldenbooks at the mall near my house. As I walked toward the back of the store, I noticed a gathering of over a dozen young teens in the corner of the store. So, I took a closer look and saw they were all hanging around the big digest-sized manga display/kiosk in the store–the one with books on every side that you could walk around. They were all flipping through books and socializing like I used to. Telling each other about their favorite characters and stories. Talking about new stuff coming out. Recommending books to people new to manga that came over to check out the display. Talking about movies, books, games and other fun kid stuff.

But I didn’t find my book there, so I went to the Barnes & Noble down the street. And guess what I saw? Another display of digest-sized manga books, and more kids hanging around and socializing. It made me happy to see that kind of enthusiasm again. It’s always nice to have a place where it doesn’t matter if that’s the cool thing or the “in” thing…where you don’t care whether people are giving you funny looks or not. It’s something you enjoy, and you always have a place to go where you know others will feel the same way. A place out in the public where your enthusiasm carries over to passersby. A place to meet new friends. A place where you walk away spending more than you originally intended because someone just told you about a new series that sounds really cool. This place isn’t on an ordinary shelf where people have to wait behind someone else to get to a book…it’s at a display you can circle around and laugh and share stories and have fun…like the warm, roaring fire at camp.