Tag Archives: bookstores

Words And Reason: The Decline of Serendipity

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

I have always loved browsing. I love browsing through dictionaries, through cookbooks, through libraries and bookstores. I love browsing the way a treasure hunter loves exploration—and for the same reason. Treasures have this tendency to not stand out in the open, waiting for you. You have to look for them—and while you’re looking for them, you often find something else, as well.

Lately, I have found myself increasingly relying on Internet dictionaries—Merriam-Webster has a great one. I subscribe to Britannica online, and I am as guilty as anyone else of heading to Amazon when I hear about a book I’d like to read. And yet last night, as I sat at the dining room table doing one of those things I encourage others to do—writing longhand—I reached down and picked up a print dictionary that was leaning against the table leg, and I looked up a word. It took me nearly half an hour, not because I’ve forgotten the alphabet, but because I had rediscovered the joy of serendipity—that discovering of agreeable things that were unlooked for. I was also reminded how much less likely serendipity is these days, as we rely more and more on the Internet.

As I flip now through the pages of the dictionary, looking at the guide words at the top, my curiosity is piqued by moulage, morris chair, mufti. A small drawing of a halberd head catches my eye. I need to stop and find out what these are, and in doing so, I am not only entertained, but also better prepared for a surprising range of literature or journalism.

I do realize that not everyone has print dictionaries these days (how do you live?), but in that case, for discovery, there is “A Word A Day” (aka AWAD). You can go to this site and scan the archives for beautiful, useful, but somewhat less common words that are worth knowing—or you can subscribe and receive a word and its definition in your e-mail inbox every day. Or do both—browse dictionaries and subscribe to AWAD. But whatever you do, add words to your brain. It has been shown that this has many benefits, from greater comprehension of the world around you to staving off dementia. Really. Words are that necessary to your brain.

Of course, the dictionary is not the only place that offers the opportunity of serendipity. I love bookstores and libraries for their ability to offer more than I could imagine. Sometimes, they are overwhelming, because I want to read everything. It is amazing how many books there are that I’ve never heard mentioned before. I scan the shelves, my eyes drawn to great cover images or intriguing titles. And unlike Amazon, at the library or bookstore, I can pick the books up, find out if they look worthwhile, feel their weight, understand what they offer.

The Internet is wonderfully useful and immediate—but don’t let it make serendipity vanish. Go to bookstores and libraries. Flip through dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works. There are so many more things out there than you will ever encounter any other way—all waiting to be discovered.

BIO: Contributor Cynthia Clampitt is a freelance writer, food historian, and traveler. She loves history, geography, culture, literature, and language—and the place where all of these intersect. She is the author of the award-winning travel narrative, Waltzing Australia, and keeps two blogs, http://www.theworldsfare.org and http://www.waltzingaustralia.com.

Freelancing In 2009: A Few More Thoughts


I read Joe’s post with interest and although I usually don’t post on the same topic, I had enough to add, so….

I too have seen the “death of bookstores” piece he spoke of, and guess what? They’ve been predicting it since the advent of the television. Personally, I don’t see it happening. The last time I was at the bookstore it had more people in it than the Apple store or the grocery store. I say nay.

The bookstore may eventually go the way of the dodo, but I don’t see that taking place anytime soon. My brother-in-law owns a store that features collectables, old movies, posters and books. His customers like to come in and pick the items up, touch them, feel them–and then buy them. There is something tactile about a book that the web can’t ever address–or replace.

I agree with the shift to more web writing, but I also believe that niche magazines are rising and if you can write for a trade mag or hobby mag, you can really get established in the industry. Don’t overlook those opportunities. I think that if magazines don’t change, they’ll die, but many are aware of that fact and are trying different things. I think that if they respond to the consumer’s wants, they will survive. Change or die, basically. Keep an eye out for the ones that are taking off and get yourself in there if you can.

Most freelancers I know have not been hurting for jobs, but recent times have seen some of what Joe mentioned in terms of pay. There is plenty of work to be had, but companies don’t want to pay top dollar–or can’t. I’ve had one client ask if I would be able to accept a slight pay reduction due to the economy. Another online company has had a whole section of their client roster slashed because of the downturn. It is everywhere, so you need to be on your best behavior, go the extra mile and think about what you can do to insure that you remain “needed”.

While I agree with Joe in the “don’t work for low pay” department, I think that if you are a newbie, you should take what you can get and start building clips. Veteran freelancers shouldn’t take on low-paying jobs if possible–it ties up your time and doesn’t do anything to advance your career. If you find yourself in a situation like I did, with a company asking you if you would trim your pay a bit, evaluate it carefully. I decided to do it because I’ve been working with this client for 2 years and they have been a steady gig. They didn’t ask for the world in terms of lower pay–and most importantly–it is a temporary measure. Everyone at the company took a pay cut and I’m willing to do my part. On the other hand, if you find the request unreasonable or can’t swing it financially, take a pass.

The other thing that I would recommend in the coming year is agressive marketing of your services. Take some time to get in touch with those who you think could use you. Send out inquiries. Do some research. Network like crazy. Join a writer’s group. A lot of work is won by old-fashioned hard work and investigation, so get to it and throw yourself into the game. Joe and I have seen a lot of changes over the past year, and one thing is for sure–it will be interesting to see what this New Year brings for us all!