Last week as I was driving around, I heard an advertisement for a book on the radio (small bit of irony right there). The narrative, driven by dark sounding dramatic music and telling us that the novel was ripped "right from today's headlines" ended with the statement "Available at your local bookstore, Amazon.com or iTunes."
Which made me think "Local Bookstores?"
I remember the bookstores of my youth. There were two, beyond the library where we got to check things out. One was a local, single store in a strip mall (I still have some of those books). The other was "Citadel of Books". It was this store that formed my impressions of what a bookstore should be: Towering shelves of books in pine shelves of varying heights with long rows, wandering up and down the aisles lost in literary wonder.
How times have changed.
I lived through the growth and essentially the death of a medium. I remember the first time I went to a Walden's books. "Wow", I thought, "so many books". Then I went to a Barnes and Noble. "Wow, it is so big" I said to myself. "They must have everything." And then I went to Borders and had a similar experience. "Wow, so much more like Citadel of Books" I said.
But Borders is now gone. The small independent bookstore of my youth is gone. All that remains is Barnes and Noble as a new book seller.
I do not really enjoy going in Barnes and Noble at all. The selection is limited. The prices are high (stupidly high). And the atmosphere - green themes with dark brown bookshelves - is hardly the sort of adventure I experienced once upon a time.
I shop the used book stores now. There is far more of a sense of adventure in finding something that you are looking for or even finding the unexpected - and the prices are a sheer luxury. Sure, I very seldom get the latest books, but those are (generally) not the books I am looking for.
Or Amazon.com. Cannot beat the selection and the prices -if you shop carefully - are just as reasonable as a used book store.
(No Kindle or iBooks for me. I simply cannot enjoy reading on a screen. I think this may partially stem from having to look at a computer screen all day. And the fact that the book is an object, a familiar thing I can manipulate and highlight and easily go back to).
A final thought hit me as I rolled the radio station over to something else. I have seen the bookstores go, first the independents, then the local chains, then the national chains. Will I live to see the day that, like a beached whale, the last great bookstore chain goes under leaving only ghostly remainders in the form of empty big boxes and the remains of a once thriving industry to be found only in the kiosks of airports?