Back to writing…

I’m returning to the keyboard after a long hiatus.  I think it’s best that I begin to exercise my writing muscle again, given that I will soon be doing quite a bit of it in grad school.

I always struggle with what to write about.  There’s so much going on in the world today that I could comment on…the horrible natural disaster in Japan, the conflict in Libya, our debt crisis here at home.  But I feel like there are so many talking about these topics already.  Will my voice really add anything to those discussions?

Rather than talking about all of those very important issues…I’d like to talk about books and the decline of the bookstore.

Recently, I discovered that my local Borders bookstore was going out of business.  This is just one in a series of Borders stores that have begun closing their doors, after the company declared bankruptcy.  Evidently, the bookstore chain had been experiencing sharp declines in sales, which is hardly a surprise to me.  The rise of e-reading devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook have begun to make physical paper books look a bit dated to some people.  Many people also buy their books online through Amazon or another service, eliminating the need to go to a physical store.  This begs the question…are bookstores about to become extinct?

I hope not.  The bookstore, to me, represents something more than a place of sale.  Bookstores have the promise of being a place where communities can gather to share their love of the written word.  This has only been encouraged by the introduction of cafes to many bookstore chains, which entices the book lover to sit and stay a while, enjoying a coffee while reading.  You see a mixture of students, business types, and older patrons sitting there, sharing the same space, both relaxing and studying.  While the bookstore’s main goal as a business is to make a sale, it has adopted the added goal of creating a safe space for individuals to come and read their books.  You could even sit down and read an entire book if you wanted to!  I’ve begun to see bookstores almost as a community space, an area where people with like interests can gather and share thoughts and ideas.

You might say that libraries serve this purpose.  I would argue that the atmosphere of libraries, while extremely conducive to studying, are not the best places for relaxation and discussion about a good book.  The need to be quiet in respect of others nearby eliminates the possibility of fully engaging with someone about a topic. 

But then the question comes…what point is a bookstore if no one reads physical books anymore?  I have a feeling that the bookstore may indeed be going the way of the record store, sadly.  There will still be a few of the stores around, and they will remain there for the collectors.  For those of us who simply can’t live without a specific edition of a classic in hardcover.  I just don’t see the demand there for the printed word anymore.  This grieves me deeply, because I believe that much of the joy of reading, at least for me, comes from interacting with the printed physical page. 

I am a collector of books.  I sometimes dream of my future library, filled with rows and rows of books that I’ve owned for years…each with its own personal meaning.  And that’s the other thing…a physical book carries meaning for the reader in a way that no e-book can.  I can often remember what I was thinking when I first picked up a certain book, what inspired me to get it, what I thought after I first read it.  How does a Kindle capture that?

I admit that I do own a Kindle.  My justification for it, however, is that there are times when I want to carry more than one book with me.  There are also instances when the book isn’t something I want to physically own in my library…I will read it once and simply be done with it.  For everything else, I’ll pick up a physical copy.  Simple as that. 

What is the future of the book?  I don’t claim to know.  I can only hope that the physical book lives on, even in our digital age.