There is a moment in the second act of Ted Tally's play "Terra Nova," a drama about the race to the South Pole, when explorer Robert Falcon Scott's wife, Kathleen, challenges him about the merits of his quest.

She says, "I should think it would make more sense to want to go to a place where one suddenly might, at any moment, become alive. Daring expedition deep into the darkest depths of a concert hall or theatre. A dizzying ascent to the top floor of an art gallery, never before seen. ... One may have to open one's eyes to see and think and feel. Come out a different person altogether on the other side."

I remember reading those words the first time I encountered the play. I remember the challenge and hope in that idea. And I have been remembering them ever since. I have had the good fortune to travel to both the populous and the remote. As a reader, though, I have gone exploring.

These are still the days of a plague, and my travels have been limited. My walks down unexpected pathways have been shaped by online algorithms. I type in a term and suddenly "related Items" appears on the bottom of my screen.

It all makes sense. That's the problem. There is no discovery. No challenge or hardship or failure. There is no joy of listening to the accent in a new friend's voice. No gasping at how the night sky looks different somewhere else.

At home, surrounded by old books I love and new books that arrived by mail, I felt a certain staleness in the room. And I remembered Kathleen Scott's advice.

I went to my closet. I retrieved a very old sweatshirt, and then I went exploring.

I went to a bookstore. I did not go to get something — I went to see what was there. I went to see what new voices might call to me, voices I had not imagined and did not appear as a "related item" after a computer search. One of the most wonderful graces about a local and independent bookstore is the way they are curated. A good bookstore is not the result of national marketing trends. A good bookstore understands its role in serving, and provoking, a town it knows well.

In Fargo/Moorhead, where I live, Zandbroz bookstore is the one with pulse and imagination. And at first, my paths brought me to peaks and valleys I had heard about. Benjamin Percy's "The Ninth Metal." Lin Enger's "American Gospel." Jhumpa Lahiri's "Whereabouts." The trek led me to Susan Orlean's "On Animals," Anthony Doerr's "Cloud Cuckoo Land."

I found myself doing the bookstore read, picking up a book and then standing four feet away from the shelf, reading page one, then page two, more or less blocking the way of everyone else. I could feel my pulse beating more earnestly.

A short while later I was in another part of the store, holding a book called "Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town," by Barbara Demick. I have been intrigued by Tibet, by the Himalayas, by Buddhism, for a long time, though Peter Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard" is the extent of my wandering. Nothing in my usual days would have brought this book to my attention, and yet here I was, discovering something new about the world and about myself.

Kathleen Scott was right. The plague has kept us home, but exploration does not require Antarctica. Go to a bookstore. You come out a different person altogether on the other side.

W. Scott Olsen is a professor and a writer in Moorhead, Minn.