Another one bites the dust…
Just a few day after Salon published a piece on The World’s Most Inspiring Bookstores, one in my own area closed its doors for good. It wasn’t a little mom-and-pop bookstore fighting the good fight against the big box Goliaths. It was a Borders. Then again, today Borders looks increasingly like a mom-and-pop bookstore fighting against Goliaths.
After lunch today I peered into the emptiness of what used to be a fun place to relax, read, and enjoy a beverage, and I imagined how a conversation between a father and child might go about thirty years from now:
Child: What’s that thing, daddy?
Dad: It’s called a book.
Child (laughing): No it’s not. I have a book here, on this tablet. In fact, I have millions of them. I downloaded them just today.
Dad: This was what books used to look like. They were sold in places called ‘bookstores,’ which were large and yet sort of cozy, and had shelves and shelves of these objects. You could come in and read them and even get a muffin and a hot cocoa and spend the whole afternoon. You could compare the books to see which was better. Or which had better illustrations. You could just browse, letting your mind wander and forgetting yourself on a Sunday afternoon, ending up buying something you hadn’t even thought of when you walked in.
Child: What are shelves?
Okay, I guess I’m as at fault as anyone. I hadn’t bought a book at retail price in that store in years either. Anything, anything I could get there, even sharply discounted, I can get online for the same price or less, sometimes much less, sometimes so much less I’m almost tempted to say to the etailer, “Please, allow me to pay more.” And I feel bad that in this information age, books are becoming devalued because information can be transmitted and stored so cheaply.
I’m also not one to get all sentimental over change. The truth is, businesses, and modes of doing business, disappear. How many people who resist the change and upheaval brought by Walmart or Starbucks refuse to drive cars? Yet those evil things sure put a lot of carriage manufacturers with families to feed out of work.
It’s a difficult situation. We all want our entertainment as cheaply as possible. But the Internet has driven prices on many items so low that it will soon be impractical to expect companies to afford the luxury of storefronts and employees. Throw in greedy landlords who keep upping the rent even in bad times just because they can (and this shopping center was recently taken over by a landlord who has done just that) and we have a recipe of unsustainability.
But aside from creating a huge empty, this gone bookstore (which was not part of the previously-announced Borders downsizing, by the way; this location was intended to stay open, but the landlord, deciding he wanted to try for a more profitable tenant, kicked it out) means there’s one fewer place to retreat from the bustle of life, to settle down, to think. This is something Daniel, my main character in Entertaining Welsey Shaw, laments near the beginning of the novel: the dearth of places to sit and reflect. Someone reading what I just wrote didn’t know what “Dearth” meant. He thought I was referring to a space villain. That, folks, is why we need more bookstores. And to spend more time in them.
They say reading is on the rise, or at least the purchase of books is on the rise, since Kindle and the iPad and other electronic gizmos have come on the scene. I hope so, but I’m not sure this isn’t just a fad that will flame out. For I didn’t realize that having to carry a book, versus having to carry an electronic, easily-stealable, expensive device in one’s bag, was a major hinderance to reading.
I plan to keep buying books like they’re going out of fashion, which they may be. I don’t own an eReader, but even if I get one, and I might, I still will enjoy their convenience only for certain types of publications—travel guides, how-to and reference books, manuals (although much of this same info is available from the Internet). For my pleasure reading, however, I will continue to get comfy on the couch with my big mug of black coffee, and open an old-fashioned paper book. And I’ll continue to haunt old-fashioned bookstores till they kick me out and padlock the doors of the last one.