Friday, August 06, 2010

This is kind of sad

This link is to a NY Times story about Barnes and Noble being up for sale. That in and of itself is not sad, or happy, but the subtext is. They're talking about the decline and perhaps death of the traditional bookstore. Of course this is not a new idea, and Katy's posts (which I read avidly) about e-readers, and my own drooling over whatever competitor with the I-pad becomes best, are symptoms of it. Eventually, the article is saying, we will be buying all our books on line and perhaps many of them won't even be physical books.

In many ways this is good. Let's consider research, for example. When I wrote my dissertation I assembled literally over a thousand articles that I stored in two HUGE file cabinets. These file cabinets, neatly alphabetized, followed us from house to house for years, eating up floor space and injuring the unprotected eyes with their ugliness. And they were HEAVY. We finally got rid of them, and did not replace them. And you know why? Well a big reason is because I now do 80% of my article reading using pdf's stored on my itty-bitty Ironkey thumb drive. It has a file cabinet's worth of crap on it, and it is VASTLY superior in storage and utility to any paper based system.

It is not hard to extrapolate from this to non-professional reading. Just as I had huge file cabinets, I still have huge bookshelves stuffed with books I have read and plan to read. And perhaps as the e-readers get better and better, and physical books get less and less convenient (if, for example, the Barnes and Noble down the street from me closes), this too will go paperless. And if that change comes, well, so be it. I am not one who decries change simply because it is change, or progress simply because it's different (or repetitiveness simply because I say the same thing in different ways - ha ha). This has already happened for the most part to record/CD stores, and our lives keep on rolling. And while I do miss using my big old stereo system at times, selecting MP3's on my linux box, and especially on my I-pod, is indeed MUCH more convenient.

But I must confess, and the point of this post is to confess, that I will painfully miss bookstores if they go the way of the dinosaur. More than software stores, electronics stores, music stores, or video stores, book stores are my favorite places to go. There is no where else you can go and simply be surrounded, simply surrounded, by ideas, knowledge, and possibility. This book can tell you how to renovate your house, that one how to build a computer, that one how to learn a language, and on, and on, and on! And you're also surrounded by dreams! Fantastic or horrible or strangely familiar worlds of fiction or even non-fiction just sitting there for you to peruse. Old friends lie within the pages of books you've read before, and new friends await on the pages of so many other books you have yet to read. It's a heady feeling!

I cherish hopes that they will still have the odd used book store, or odd ball new book store, around in large cities for the cultural dinosaurs like me to graze in even if/when B&N and other chains are gone. Because even though I love amazon, and shop there as much as I do B&N, it's never going to give me the rush that a real bookstore does. It's like non-alcoholic beer. Sort of similar taste, nothing like the effect.

1 comment:

Seeker said...

I now do ALL my book shopping on Amazon. Mostly because it is cheaper and as much as I like to buy books it makes a difference.
But...I do miss THE BOOKSTORE. Everything you said was absolutely true. A good bookstore is an adventure and a refuge. I have lived all my life in bookstores...they have sustained me through some hard times in my life and nourished me in good times.