There are two things that depress me: politics and the closing of bookstores. As politics has shown its head of being nothing but vaudeville that unfortunately has consequence (even if those in the political field are neither responsible or interested in accountability, rather the interest of themselves, their party, and the current talking points that have scored the highest with the “informed public”), bookstores remained a salvation.
When I first arrived here, I went to a Borders bookstore that I hadn’t been in. It was a wonderful bit of freedom from the standard fare of my normal day. A chance to smell the new book smell instead of roadkill or horse manure, a chance to turn pages of individual effort to inspire me to get my ass in gear and write my book(s). But then Borders announced they were going out of business. So, I made my final trip there, which culminated in no books purchased, and drowning my depression in over-poured margaritas and crappy Mexican food.
The vultures were out, circling these pages of individual effort, relegating a bookstore to a disaster zone of screaming children, freaked-out clerks, impatience, and shelving for 40% off. The most depressing part of this? It could all have been prevented.
Out of all the forms of media criss-crossing our paths towards attention, books and the written word are the one constant, be it in shelf-space form or in eBook reading. People will always read. While the delivery systems may change, the notion that books will give way to multi-media presentations of images, blown windmills through a microphone, and interactivity is asinine. We’re in an age of convergence, not replacement. Everything has its place.
Bookstores had (and independent booksellers do) have the chance to create that one thing that downloading will never provide: an experience. An escape from the mundane, from the now-now-now mentality of the moment. They can bring a slowness to the world, a chance to unwind, a chance to expand one’s mind. Instead, because of short-sightedness on the part of business school hacks who thought they knew how the world worked, the only experience remaining is akin to entering a masoleum, where the past is frozen, where the present has nothing but grief, and the future is not bright, but moldy. Except of course, for the poor souls whose responsibility it is to hawk the newest e-reader, discussing technology instead of storytelling, convenience over experience, and wrap-around covers instead of hardback.
I feel for those who work in bookstores. They know their days are numbered, and it’s apparent in every single person who asks if I need help finding something.
But what can be done to inject new life into bookstores? Three things that need no explanation.
• Experience instead of convenience.
• Discussion instead of the company line.
• Slowness instead of one-click.
People will always read. And people will always crave an experience, be it an escape, immersion, or popcorn. For bookstores to truly survive, they must adopt the Steve Jobs credo of “don’t give people what they want – give them what they don’t know they need.”