"I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be truly disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man."

19 September 2010

Eventually, you do plan to have books in your bookstore, right?

Am I the only one becoming increasingly disheartened at the lack of book selection in bookstores?
Sure, my standards are a little high seeing as how I grew up in bookstores. No hyperbole in this instance -- I literally grew up spending a significant portion of my formative years in my local college bookstore, used bookstores, new bookstores, libraries, book fairs, etc. Not to mention my family's living and dining rooms are basically libraries with cushy seating, a dining table and a TV. Moving into my own places did not diminish the need to surround myself with books, either.
So it is with much dismay that the past year or so each time I walk into a bookstore, especially a big box chain, I find fewer books and more 'stuff.' Stuff ranges from e-readers to larger cafe space to expanded DVD and/or magazine sections and, even moreso, pointless tacky gift sections. I mean, I like a good one of these, but not to buy... and certainly not to buy in a bookstore.
Case in point: I entered a local big-box store on a whim during lunch the other day. It occurred to me that a new novel by Cornelia Funke came out this week, so I eagerly meandered to the children's section to find it. Alas, while there were copies of the Inkheart trilogy, and one copy of The Thief Lord, no new book could be discovered. Upon returning to a computer I investigated further, only to find Reckless out of stock at 3/4 of this bookstore's locations in the greater Los Angeles area.
This woman is one of the top current children's authors. Her books have been put onto film (where many good books go to die). She lives in California. Yet in one of the largest metropolitan cities in the country, her book is not stocked on its first week of release in 75% of stores. Granted, a search at another major retailer shows the book as in stock, but when you're talking about billion-dollar stores that can't even be bothered to stock a new release from a popular author because they have to sell more Kindlenookreaders... it makes me want to scream and cry and throw up a little all at once, and it's not entirely the fault of the retailer -- it's our fault.
Now, my own personal issues with electronic readers aside, my major complaint here is that in an industry that is already struggling not just because of advanced technology, but because of a country that is increasingly interested in getting everything instantaneously and not having to put thought into any activity or be culpable for any action, we decide to remedy this problem by feeding the masses what they think they want. We push upon them this magic box which condenses a real, physical experience into a flat tome that delivers the same words to our eyes, but not the same experience.
Yes, I admit it, as a paragon of anti-snobbery, I have just proclaimed myself a book snob. Why? Because for me, putting a book into a tiny computer does not make it more accessible. It makes it less valuable. We already put so little emphasis on the power of reading and excitement of what the right words can do to people, and now we are taking the only lasting, physical evidence of a book's power and transferring it to a tablet of plastic and metal in which the book only exists when you call upon it. Books don't work like that. They exist whether you're around or not. They whisper when you aren't there (and often when you are, if you're keen enough to listen). Their physical presence in your hands demands you attention and you must perform a physical act to stop reading, close the book and put it away -- not just tap a screen. It requires thought and energy both to read and cease reading.
All this brings me back to the simple point that without physical books in bookstores we are disengaging ourselves from the activity of experiencing a book and engaging in the passivity of just reading words scrolling across a screen. In doing that we diminish the power of the books and the publishing industry suffers... but so do our minds because reading should be a sense-memory activity like exercise. The more we plug ourselves into electronic boxes of any kind, the more our bodies and minds pay the price.
So get out there, visit your local bookstore, whether it be chain or independent, new or used... or hey, even go to a library. Ignore the shiny electronics and accessories being offered, walk past all the knick knacks, resist the urge to plop down in the cafe with your laptop or iPad or netbook and check facebook for the 200th time today, and spend some quality time communing with the books. Pick them up, feel them, flip through the pages, smell them, enjoy the sensation of caressing the leaves and the cover. Then, when you're ready (and this may take a few visits to acclimate yourself to the idea), take one home with you and read it. The book will thank you for it, and so will your mind.

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