The Vanishing Bookstore

“I know every book of mine by its smell, and I have but to put my nose between the pages to be reminded of all sorts of things.” George Robert Gissing – 1857 to 1903

The era of the e-book has already dawned making it possible to continue your love of reading and never have to visit a bricks-and-mortar bookstore at all. You just have to download what you want, and that’s it. I am not ready to migrate all my reading habits online as a physical bookstore is hugely important to me. I don’t think there is anything wrong with reveling in a bookstore’s smell. I have to assure you that I am not encouraging you to become a book sniffer (even invisibly inside your head). It’s just the scent of a physical book – the paper, the ink, the glue, the heft and beauty of the printed page,  conjures up memories of nights spent reading books under a blanket with a torch when I was a kid, memories of summers reading outside or on a beach, or perched in the corner of a coffee shop, or sitting in an overstuffed chair at home by the fireplace (even if the chimney was sealed up long ago) that evokes an escape from the bustling streets outside. I like going into one, picking up a book and sitting in a chair or sitting on the floor if one isn’t available. I am not sure about you – but I could spend hours in a bookstore, after all its a place you go to look as you choose and for as long as you want. I grew up into a world filled with books, I could take my pick of bookstores to go to and they always stocked all the books I’ve ever wanted to read. Now it seems there are less of them around. One of the many bookstores that I have fond memories of was in Salem, Massachusetts. I remember as I walked inside a bell on top of the door rang and did so again when I closed it and as I peered in between a narrow pile of books the owner looked up at me and smiled and I smiled back at him and he went back to reading his book, while customers quietly milled about through the maze of pilled up books that  seemed as tall as skyscrapers. Books were literally stacked everywhere, thick ones, thin ones, large ones and small ones. I jokingly asked the owner how do I pick out the book that’s right at the bottom of the pile? to which he answered with a wry smile “if only I had a dollar for each time someone asked me that..” and we carried on having a conversation about the layout of his bookstore. Later on I spotted one I wanted, along with coffee stains and creased corners, and defying the laws of gravity I managed to grab it without any trouble but I was always very good at playing Jenga when I was younger. It turned out that it was an independent bookstore that had been there for a number of years. I really like the smaller independent bookstores and used bookstores because they are the ones where you find the surprises. Some of my other reasons for going to one is not only just to read but interacting with other readers and discussing a book we were both about to buy, a mixture of recommendation and discovery that’s driven by shared interests. However, I do worry about e-book readers edging bookstores out and how many are fighting to stay in business.  I have seen smaller bookstores vanish and for the ones that haven’t, it seems like there is little or no future for them. I seem to worry about a lot of things as I get older or the list of my worries grows longer and sometimes I even worry when I’m not worried. What am I forgetting to be worried about? Bookstores vanishing. Turns out that I am not alone.

Photo of some bookshelves
Bookshelves

I am sure you will agree with me that iPads and Kindles in comparison to books, don’t really smell like anything and they wouldn’t look as good as all those books occupying your shelves. I know you can still go to bookstores even if its just to experience a sense of nostalgia (is there any nostalgia in online shopping?) that you haven’t felt in a long time and still read e-books and shopping for them is a relatively simple experience but to me it seems about as sentimental as a trip to the dentist. I would miss the bell above the door ringing and the smile of the bookstore owner and everything else that makes up the essence of a bookstore, and there is nothing distinctive in the size, look, shape or feel of an e-book reader. Some may argue that although physical books themselves are beautiful, non physical e-books allow you to search for specific words, sentences or passages and let you share them by way of copying and pasting them on social media such as Twitter or Facebook.

Kindle Reader
Kindle Reader

I know you can’t put 100 physical books into your backpack (or who would?) without breaking your back. It’s just e-books for me lack feeling and I am pretty sure its not possible to give these electronic counterparts any feelings. I don’t ever want to mourn the demise of books or mourn the endangered status of them just as I did with music tapes and do with music CD’s now. Although a bookstore is more or less a platform for selling all types or literature and for the purchase of it, platforms generally move and change, gathering and then dispersing our memories as they move on. I feel a deep lose of sense when I discover a bookstore I knew has closed, one that is more than  just a mere regret and I don’t know if anyone else would feel this way if a favorite bookstore of theirs vanished where they lived or if it would have resonance elsewhere. I sure hope all bookstores don’t vanish or disappear into the cyber, it would be like losing the common thread of civil life and a street without a bookstore would be like a bookshelf without a book.

 

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