Are we losing our love of books?


Associated Press ran an article today (February 16, 2011) stating that Borders is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with expectation of closing 200 of its 642 stores. Borders also owns Waldenbooks and Borders Express.

While some (myself included) may grudgingly point out that the superstore booksellers have shut down the local mom and pop book stores across the country, the fact that a large bookseller such as Borders can’t make it is a call for attention.

If the walk-in bookstores aren’t holding their own, it could mean:

1. People are buying their books online, or
2. People prefer e-books, or
3. People aren’t interested in reading books anymore, or
4. A combination of any or all of the above.

I must say that I’m not terribly excited about any of the options.

If number one or two is true, then we are missing out on a very important tactile, cultural and intellectual experience. There’s nothing like perusing the shelves, taking in the colors, smells and textures of the books. When you hold a book in your hands and flip through its pages, you develop a relationship with that book and its author that can’t be replicated. Someone took the time to put those words in exactly the right order, lay them out just-so on the page, and arrange the pages of the book to make it aesthetically pleasing. There is something about grabbing a book on a breezy summer afternoon, finding a quiet spot under a shady tree, and allowing your self to get lost in the thoughts and impressions of the printed word. Or perhaps it’s winter and you want to get your mind off the icy wind howling outside and so you pick up a favorite volume, snuggle under a blanket and allow yourself to be transported to another time and place.

Even more, there’s a certain joy to having finished a book and then literally handing it on to a good friend in hopes he or she will find the same joy in it that you have. It’s an added blessing when the two of you can sit down later over a cup of coffee or tea and revisit the book’s pages together, discussing what touched your mind and heart. Having picked the book out your self or received it from the hands of a friend enriches the entire experience.

I once argued with someone that eReaders can do the same thing. I strongly disagree! While eReaders can be convenient at times, one still cannot cherish it nor pass it on in the same way as a printed book. You wouldn’t pass your eReader on to someone else and sending a file that he or she just clicks to open lends an air of sterility to the exchange.

If number three or four is true, then we are in an even more serious state of affairs because we’ll be getting our information and ideas in gigabytes rather than mind-challenging and heart-uplifting prose and verse. This will shorten our attention spans and squelch our imaginations. Our world will be defined by the screen in front of us, not the potential within us.

7 Comments

  1. While I know dozens of homeschoolers/unschoolers with tons of books, and witnessed armloads being sold at Powell's in Portland (must be the weather), I feel that generally the common folk are sucked into the world of electronics. Those who do not frequent a bricks and mortar store tend to buy on line…more value for the money they say. I have bought and sold books for years and beg to differ. If one is buying used, there is a wide variance out there and buyer beware-sometimes as advertised is no where near the truth. At least in a store you can see if the book is a mess or it reeks of cigarette smoke. Or you can buy to choose the cookbook with all the notations because they could be helpful and are kind of cool. I love books…and the stores they are shelved in…
    New books can be a better deal, until that discount gets sucked up by shipping costs..
    As for the ereaders, you can have them. I work on computers all day and have an iPhone. My eyes hate me. Books are easy on them where as the screens, not so much. I end up with eye fatigue and find that books do not contribute to the strain. There is of course all the arguments against ebooks/readers (and tons for). If you can stand them and read a lot of titles that you will never read again, sure -go for it. However, if you want to posess the book and refer to it often I would think hard about purchasing a real book. There was also the case of the book that disappeared-the publisher rescinded rights to it (War of the Worlds, or?) and it vanished. All gone.
    I sure hope that does not happen to the wide wonderful world of books…

  2. Oh nuts. I misspelled 'possess' ugh.

  3. In my experience, people who advocate e-books travel a lot and want less to carry around. Even in the circles at a media school where fascination with e-readers is high, people talk about the inability to replicate the experience of holding a real book. However, reading now has to compete with the other ways of media entertainment. With less time spent reading, fewer books will be read.

    Of your four stated reasons, though, I think that number 1 is most plausible. I am an avid reader, but rarely go into a "regular" bookstore. The reasons are these:

    1. I hate being accosted with offensive titles and images as soon as I walk in the door. Since these typically are the most popular books or the ones with the biggest marketing campaigns, those are the ones on the front display. When I shop online, they "recommend" books that are similar to ones I have already searched for/bought.

    2. When I go to a bookstore, it is typically when I am searching for a certain book. I search through the shelves (which have another number of offensive books), and if I am lucky I find the title. If not, I have to go search down a customer service rep. that logs onto their website to tell me that they can order it for me on the website and ship it to my home. I could have just saved the time by doing it myself.

    I like the ideal of bookstores (and love religious or used bookstores), but can't say that I am particularly sad that Borders is closing. Both they and B&N have been bleeding money for a long time, so it was just a matter of time.

  4. An independent bookstore in my area is closing. The reasons they cited were the economy (people spending less in general) and a migration to e-books. I am an avid reader and buy most my books either used, or highly discounted on Amazon. Paperbackswap.com is a fantastic resource.

  5. Wife, mother, author, and columnist.

    Alright, let's say we do buy printed books, but we get them online. Aren't we still missing out on the human experience of perusing the shelves, noticing the tangible qualities of the books – the color, the smell, the feel of the book in our hands. Isn't there something wonderful about walking up to the counter with your treasure and chatting with the cashier about your anticipation of this good read as she rings up your sale and hands you the bag?

  6. You have forgotten my very favorite option: the library. My library has seen a drastic jump in patrons in the last six months because of the economy. So much so that it is hard to find parking most days. Everyone is there and I get a chance to talk to my neighbors, suggest books and get suggestions and take home armloads of books for free!

  7. Wife, mother, author, and columnist.

    Excellent point, Katherine! We, too, frequently use the library. But, what happens if the library doesn't carry the books you want? In our system, I can't find the religious books for which I'm looking.

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