May 6, 2012
Yesterday, the warm afternoon breeze held a hint of summer. It whispered in my ear, prodding me to grab my handbag and say a quick good-bye to my family. I slipped out the door and into the car. I wasn’t escaping to the outdoors on that beautiful day; I was escaping to the bookstore.
The bookstore and I have an intimate relationship. Some of you will scoff and say, “A person can’t have a relationship with a place.” Well, a bookstore isn’t simply a brick and mortar building. It’s a place where books reside. Many of the books have an air about them that’s so palpable, they seem to breath. Of course, there are those books that are nothing more than pulp and ink and one can only hope for their demise.
People work there, and shop there, and browse there; they take what they need from the books like a plant taking water from the earth. And all these things combine to make an atmosphere that can only be found in a store that houses books. This is the place I have a relationship with. It’s the place I spent much of my young adult life.
After I had kids the relationship changed. I spent many enjoyable (and a few unenjoyable) hours in the children’s section; I never seemed to make it over to grown-up fiction. My time for reading had vanished, unnoticed in the busyness that became my life.
It wasn’t until last summer, after many years apart, I resumed my relationship with the bookstore. Every few months, it calls to me, and I steal away filled with anticipation. I love losing myself among the shelves while time stands still. My eyes feast on the myriad of colors, sizes and words that define each book and make each unique among its many siblings. I peruse the shelves, pulling out anything that catches my eye. I always make sure to go over the bottom shelf thoroughly in an effort to make up for the unfair disadvantage of being housed in that location.
Sometimes, I find “the book” right away. Other times, two or three vie for my affections. I limit myself to purchasing one. If I have two books beckoning to me, I may not be strong enough to resist the temptation to read them both, thus digging a hole of backwork that will take me a week to climb out of.
I buy my book and head home in time to make dinner. But the experience doesn’t end at the bookstore doors. It’s just begun. There’s the sweetness of anticipation. I know that later, I’ll curl up in my favorite rocker, or sit on creaky glider on the patio, and lose myself as I read.
Something happened recently that filled me with foreboding, and made me wonder if my relationship with the bookstore was in danger. I was sitting with other parents in the lounge during basketball practice. I was the only one in the room with a print book. Everyone else was engaged with an electronic device. For a moment, I felt like a dinosaur that had stumbled from its place in the museum exhibit. Then I was struck with a chilling thought: “Are print books an endangered species?”
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”– Mark Twain
Of course, nobody can predict the fate of print books, but I find myself thinking back to the days of vinyl music— albums and single records. It’s not the same situation, nor were the stakes as high, but looking back may give us some perspective.
You’d buy the album for its music, but an album was more than music. For some, the covers and liner notes were amazing works of art. They became a genre on their own. In fact, since 1964 there has been a Grammy Award for Best Liner Notes. If you have no idea what an album cover or liner note is, I think maybe the point of the discussion is hidden in there somewhere.
When CD’s came along, their tiny format made cover art and liner notes seemed laughable next to the grandeur of an album’s. But in time, the music industry crafted their own style of CD liner notes and covers. The liner notes and covers of old were forgotten. It seemed that nothing had been lost.
But we’ve face another paradigm shift in music. It’s modern format is electronic; CD’s are becoming obsolete and the need for physical packaging is rapidly dwindling. And the internet and Youtube are replacing liner notes and cover art. And it doesn’t seem to be such a big deal. I wonder if, in reality, it’s a much bigger deal than we realize.
I’ve never read an e-book. Who knows? Maybe it will be just as enjoyable reading a Nook out on the glider. And bedtime stories read from i-Pads will gently erase memories of printed books. But I’m not sure if any place can take the place of a bookstore.
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