There was a story printed in November of 2011 in the Bloomsberg BusinessWeek that was titled, “The End of Borders and the Future of Books.” It described a now familiar world, where the great mall bookstores of our past were finally falling to the prey of capitalism. The article encouraged us with stats and figures that the bookstore was not dying because of the online accessibility of the once rare page, ($900 million in online books in a $28 billion a-year market) nor was it because humans simply no longer craved the feel and smell of that all important new book.
And yet this morning, we awoke to a new article in the veritable Wall Street Journal. This headline read, in great solemnity that only the WSJ can pull off, “B&N Aims To Whittle Its Stores For Years.” By the title were we suppose to take comfort in the idea that a great hallmark for many of us, that beautiful and often crowded world of bookstores was going to die a slow death instead of insanity of immediacy? Were we suppose to look at the death as a wonderful thing because it was going to take years instead of days? Is there comfort to be had?
Bookstores for me personally, have changed in so many ways from that little Waldenbooks I once browsed. I remember being a child and waiting, waiting for my mother to try on those dresses, and sitting with my hands under my knees knowing if I begged she would immediately turn on the frustration, just so I could briefly visit what I considered in my youth the holy land. I was probably much different from my contemporaries from the start, complaining about only getting twenty minutes to browse those few shelves, while my sister complained about the only twenty minutes she got in the toy store. But for me, visiting a bookstore was the equivalent of a toy store, a McDonald’s cheeseburger, and a day without school all rolled into one.
I lived for getting lost in the rooms of Martin’s Babysitter Club and I couldn’t wait to swing a bat with Matt Christopher. My mother, who controlled my life and the checkbook when I was a child, had the awesome power of regulating not only how much I could read but what I could read. While other parents were bemoaning the idea of getting their children to read, my mother was praying that I would put down the book long enough to see the world around me. It got to such a point, that my mother, in order to try to slow me down made me read a non-fiction book for every fiction. And when the books got too easy, she would find the equivalent in older, harder, and more in-depth pages.
And it wasn’t just the bookstore, it was also that magical place – the library. When I was a child my mother would hold my hand, walk me through the doors of the local library, and each and every time, allow me to carry out as many books as I wished to have. If I couldn’t carry them all, she would help. There were no books off limit, and there were no genres unexplored; I was and could be everything. Now I spend hours searching for pictures and images of great libraries, and dream of the day that I will simply sit among its stacks and breath air sweeter than any I have ever known.
The article in Bloomsberg BusinessWeek spends a paragraph devoted to the shopper who simply wants to see or smell the new books in a store. No matter how many books I download on my nook, you simply can’t replace the feel of a book in your hands. No matter how convenient it is to simply go and press a button while lazing on the couch, you can’t smell the new book. No matter how those pages don’t bend, or how easy it is to re-read the same story with a simple touch, you simply can’t replace a bookstore.
I think of that movie, “You’ve Got Mail,” and the fight for her bookstore, the dream that eventually fell to capitalism. I think of the big words in the many editorials, and even the thoughts that I use to convey my position here. And I realize that despite my personal needs, my personal whims, and even my personal sanctuaries, the era of the bookstore, is leaving.
I wonder if a day will come when a book will cost thousands for a first edition, instead of the current price.? If the capitalism driving bookstores out, will also drive up the initial prices for first editions? And will those editions be ornate, beautiful, gold-bound books that once graced the shelves of celebrities or kings? Will my children ever know the smell of a wonderous story that will take them far away and give them all that they can only find in the pages of the book or in the dreams they innocently feel?
The death of the bookstore scares me because I wonder if what comes next is the death of the book. And if there isn’t a book for me to escape in, if there isn’t a place for me to find my way; if there isn’t a friend found, or a map drawn will I or could I ever be what I dream most to be?