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.