We attended a closing yesterday. It was a sad but not un-expected event. For seven years a local entrepreneur had devoted himself to a corner store specializing in books, and including almost any other printed matter – posters, cards, that sort of thing.
A personable, experienced businessman, Ron had taken up the fight for independent bookstores when most of the books being sold were already finding their way to readers via what has become the ultimate home shopping outlet: the internet. Our friend offered space for writers to meet and interact with readers (this writer included), encouraged local authors to consign books to his shelves, and even promoted our work in displays and special places in the store. And if he didn’t have the book you were seeking, a minute or two at the desk would add your request to his next order. But no longer.
The town still has one independent seller of a limited selection of new books (along with clothing, jewelry, and other non-books), antique shops with racks of used books, and three or four selling nothing but old books. The passing of the one small, independent bookseller, operated by a person who not only knows books but loves them, too, is a sad day for readers and writers, for reading and writing.
As a writer I love the idea of potential readers taking one of my books off the shelf, discovering a story or essay they like and want to read to "The End." Paying to do that is a small part of what drives any writer. The writing is the thing we love the most, but knowing someone finds what we write compelling enough to read it is also important. Having a place where that can happen, a real place with perhaps a chair or two, where a reader can get acquainted with an author’s work before buying, seems to be slowly fading away.
Do you feel that same satisfaction sitting alone reviewing books on your phone or tablet or computer? I don’t. I do it sometimes because that is how the world is changing, but I don’t like it as much. Holding a book in my hands is a very satisfying tactile experience. Sometimes, here in our own library or in the county library half-an-hour away, I just wander from shelf to shelf, taking a down likely book, holding it, opening it, scanning a bit of the text, reading about the author, that sort of thing. A book, for me, is an experience unlike any other. There is the promise of discovery, the possibility of knowledge, the experience of emotion, held between the covers of a book. Being able to find all of that in a quiet, dedicated place is part of civilized living. In a world where civilization seems more menaced than honored, books and the places where books can be found are simultaneously threatened and needed.
When a bookstore closes, the final snap of the latch is a sad sound indeed.