The era of the big box bookstore is coming to an end and I, for one, am saddened by this. Yes, I know they were big, bad corporate giants that came in and destroyed neighborhood bookstores and coffee shops, ending third places and stifling locally-owned businesses in many communities. All that’s true – and awful.
But at this point, the closing of your local Borders isn’t likely to mean that a locally-owned bookstore is going to spring up in its place. (Although I wish that would happen!) It’s really just going to drive more business to Amazon (or iTunes). Yes, I know they’re both big, bad corporations, so why should I care if people buy from Borders or Amazon?
Because I like bookstores – large and small. I like browsing. I like wandering the aisles and touching the books. Picking them up and feeling their weight. I like to pick an edition based on the way the pages feel in my hand. For me, buying a book is a tactile experience.
I like to browse books by subject – to get lost in the non-fiction section discovering biographies on obscure yet fascinating subjects. I like to be able to compare a book to its fellows. Rarely do I go into a book store with a specific purchase in mind. Through looking (and touching) I find the book that’s right for me at the moment – a book that fits my mood, my budget, my plans for the rest of the day.
I can’t do those things on Amazon. I can’t wander. I can’t touch. I can’t get serendipitously inspired to read something new. Sure, I can browse the titles, authors, and covers of best sellers or new books in certain categories, but all I can see of them is the first few pages. I can read reviews, but I can’t ask the person standing next to me if she’s read it and what she thought about it. I can’t have those great, yet totally random, conversations that arise in bookstores. About if Gene really jounced the limb. And how it would have been a more fitting ending if Harry had died. And if he finds a family at the end of The Giver. And what Disk World really looks like. And how vampires don’t really sparkle.
(My thoughts: yes, yes, yes, it involves a turtle, and “Of course they don’t!”)
The demise of Borders and (even further) rise of Amazon means that I’ll be able to have these conversations even less often. I won’t get to spend lazy weekends wandering through bookstores while drinking coffee and absorbing the books around me. For a while now, I’ve known that my time to do that was coming to an end, and I’ve been dreading the end of this era.
eBooks are coming. Really, they’re already here. Click a button, enter your password, and the book is yours. But, it’s not really a book. It’s text. And the text is yours — to read, but nothing more. There’s no room for marginalia. No space to write, in your best third grade handwriting, “This book belongs to the library of Maggie O’Toole.”
There’s no bookseller to talk to during checkout, no one to say, “By the way, if you like this, you’ll love this other one. I just read it last week and it’s great.” There’s not even a way to see what the people next to you on the train are reading. Books are becoming sterile and solitary. We can’t loan them, we can’t share them. And we’ll discuss them less and less. And it’s sad.
Questions of the day: What do you think? About if Gene really jounced the limb. And how it would have been a more fitting ending if Harry had died. And if he finds a family at the end of The Giver. And what Disk World really looks like. And how vampires don’t really sparkle.
MaggieCakes is a blog about social media, marketing, culture, and what’s new on the internet written by me, Maggie O’Toole. Every day (okay, I try for every day) I comb blogs and news outlets for the news about internet culture and social media to bring them to you (with my commentary, of course) here on MaggieCakes. Find anything interesting in the worlds of culture or social media that you’d like to see a post on? Leave a comment or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.