I was looking for a place to kill time for the hour I had between my day job at the lawfirm and my part time job. I couldn’t go home, as home at the time was a half hour away and by the time I got there, I would have just enough time to unlock the front door before I had to step back out and start driving back to town.
“I just need somewhere to sit,” I said into my cell phone. Short on money, coffee shops were to be avoided, as coffee drinking is one of my more expensive vices. Restaurants, as well, usually required some kind of purchase before letting you use their tables. Malls opportuned window shopping, which I’ve learned to appreciate, but malls are crowded and loud. I was starting to feel a bit orphaned until I reached the corner of 72nd and Dodge, a corner possessing both a Borders and a Barnes and Noble. A book store is another dangerous place for my wallet, but the heat index was climbing above 100 degrees, so I decided to take my chances and parked.
I was, of course, reasoning all of this aloud to my friend on the other line.
“It’s too bad all the bookstores are going to close; then where will people go in these situations?” he asked.
I stopped in my tracks. This was news to me.
“Yeah, places like Borders and Barnes and Noble are all going to shut down. What with tablets, readers… Kindles, you know… Real books don’t make enough money anymore.”
I shrieked with exhasperation. I’ve never liked electronic readers. Sure, as I tried to stuff a fifth book into my two-book-tops-sized purse, I mused about how much easier it would be to be able to have my entire library–a seven-foot-tall bookshelf, stuffed to bursting– with me at all times. I would never have toagonize over whether I wanted to read Thomas Sowell or Stephanie Meyer again!
But the prioritizing that having limited book-bag space requires is almost integral to a serious reader’s experience. The more you have to discern, the less likely you’ll be to waste your time on trashy, $4 paperback romance novels. It separates the wheat from the chaff, or the Faulkner’s from the Harlequins.
Besides, there’s something about a book. It’s a realness. A comfort in the smell, and the earmarked pages, and its perfect, user-friendly design. It’s a whole world that folds between into a compact rectangle. There’s a weight to it that helps you connect with the weight of the words inside.
Rarely having the money for new books, the used books I picked up from Poor Richard’s, a secondhand bookstore in my hometown, often had these worn qualities which assured me that someone loved that book, and studied it intensely. Quotes are underlined, pages are dog-earred, notes are scribbled in the margins. My used copy of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel has a note penciled on the yellowing blank page in the back about the previous reader’s own depression. I have countless books with notes from parents, aunts, uncles and friends that I don’t know in the front covers of books that were once given as gifts. This might bother some people, but not me. I have never had a librarian’s reverence for a pristine page.
There’s a used bookstore in downtown Omaha that is a maze of stacked towers of the written word, in no discernable order. Buried in the middle, barely visible, is the store keeper’s desk, covered with bits of paper and more stacks of almanacs and novels. The smell is of dust and outdated encyclopedias. I’m sure you could spend days there and continue to find something you’d never seen before.
On the other hand, new books have that crackling sound in their spine when you first open them, like something dormant waking up that welcomes you to stretch them out and encourages you to lay them open with their spine up. Inside is crisp black and white. While old books have the feel of a story that’s been told and repeated, new books have an air of anticipation, like it’s been waiting for someone to tell its story to.
Today, when I was checking Drudge Report and saw this story, I hope you’ll forgive my sounding melodramatic, but I felt like I was reading about a dying friend. Bookstores, like the homes of friends, are somewhere to go when you have no where to go. Books, and their homes are where I’ve gone to lose myself, as an escape from loneliness, homesickness and depression, or just plain ol’ boredom. Running your fingers over the titles on the shelves often seems an intimate gesture. If I had the money, I think the amount I would spend in bookstores would not only be enough to help Border’s out of the hole, it would fund the opening of several branches.
I’m not one to denounce technology. I’m positively glued to my iPhone, and human scientific progress and ingenuity is something that often leaves me in awe. Were I to write my own wedding vows, I may or may not use the song Kip wrote for LaFawnduh to sing for my new husband [Yes, I love technologyyyy, but not as much as you, you see, but I still love technologyyy, always and foreverrrr]. Not being particularly computer-savvy, many things about my little PC still leave me befuddled, but I can recognize a good thing when I see it. E-books are not one of those things. To me, e-books belong in the same technological category as human cloning and eugenic studies– I wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.
I don’t care if we have a Fahrenheit 451-style nationwide book burning– I won’t be buying a Kindle.
On the plus side, Border’s liquidation sale should supply me with more than enough reading material to last me through the printed paper apocalypse.