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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The End as We Know It!

I’m about to go where no blogster has dared go before; skating on thin ice, working without a net, leaping over ten flaming automobiles on a Harley.

So here’s the deal. Sacrilege warning! I’ve just read my umpteenth obituary, ode or lament to the closing of a big box bookseller. How the community is about to be lessened, made practically savage by this loss. There will be no more delicious scents of coffee and honey-buns wafting upstairs with the escalator, no more piles of second-rate copies of the classics stacked in one’s path, no endless displays of coffee table books discounted to the price they should have sold for in the first place. And, where in the world will we get next year’s calendar?

Yes, the world of book buyers is topsy-turby. The e-book menace is oozing down Main Street like some great, green blob. It won’t be long before we’re pillaging each other’s garbage cans looking for something to read.

One blogger lamented the lost of “the tactile experience.” I gather that means the ability to touch the spines, caress the pages, and perhaps undress those paragraphs with our eyes. Another sighed and wrote essentially that there goes the neighborhood. She loved the brightly lighted coffee shop where writers were invited to dawdle over their computers and sip caramel lattes, while the next Great American Novel took shape under their tapping fingers.

There was usually the bearded guy at a corner table, his beret askew, his eyes fixed on the door as if expecting someone, his laptop waiting patiently for his next deathless sentence. He always took a table for four, but made certain no one would ask to join him, no matter how busy the place, because coats, scarves, briefcase occupied all of the other chairs. One dare not disturb the bard.

How did it come to be? This mysterious connection to books? It’s as if one lingers in a bookstore in San Francisco’s North Beach, or one in Greenwich Village or some cathedral of a library, knowledge and insight will be gained by osmosis. The very act of being in proximity to books will enlighten or thrill or engage.

Let’s step back a few years when readers were lamenting the loss of their neighborhood independent bookstore to the very big box store they’re gnashing their teeth about now. The argument was almost identical to the one fogging the blogosphere today. Except then few little shops on the corner offered coffee and honey-buns.
Let’s step back further. There was a time in the not too distant past when households with any aspirations had a bookcase in the front room that usually included a massive set of encyclopedias, a few of last year’s best-sellers, an atlas (out of date), a Bible, a dictionary and a copy of “The Egg and I.”

Somehow those bookcases grew taller and longer as aspirations did the same, until finally a “library” was mandatory for any upwardly mobile family. The hunt for knowledge became decoration. Children were pictured sprawled on a carpet reading Mark Twain and listening to Schubert on the radio: halcyon days.

Not too many years ago I was invited to a housewarming in a gated community (that shall remain nameless) in Northern California. The entry hall led to a sweep of stairs curving up to a mezzanine, and the walls on said stairs featured built-in bookshelves. I was taken aback at how artfully the books thereon were arranged. It was as if someone had managed to read hundreds of books that somehow had color coordinated dust jackets or leather spines polished to a high cordovan or oxblood. Closer examination (and I doubt few took the opportunity) revealed that those lovely books were trashy romances and detective stories with custom-made dust jackets, sometimes three or four of the same titles (all the same height, you see) disguised as Milton or Shakespeare or Lord Byron. Books sold by the yard to decorators. Thus we reached the ultimate use of books as status, but not books as books.

But, let us return to today. E-books have overtaken sales of print books. For all intents and purposes the neighborhood bookstore is gone, as are a lot of the big box stores. What would readers expect a bookseller to do when publishers no longer publish on paper? At the rate life is accelerating in this fast lane of electronic reading it’s only a matter of time until there are few printed books at all.

The next generation will take their Kindle or Nook to whatever replaces the coffee shop on the corner and read whatever they downloaded in the morning. An e-reader is easy to dust. An e-reader is easy to carry around. It has a certain cachet. However, you can’t decorate much with it.

There is no point in regretting what is passing. I can see a future where the only print books available will be by subscription and sold by boutique printers at prices, of course, that I couldn’t begin to afford.

When everything is electronic my only worry is that someone will drop a neutron bomb and wipe out all the writing of the past 6,000 years. There’s always something to worry about or regret.

Meanwhile, I’m about to start reading a best-seller that a friend recommended. It feels nice in my hand, the layout is attractive, and the type is comfortable, the paper has a nice feel. It weighs probably three pounds. I’ll just grab my old bookmark and head on down to the coffee shop. Today, I think, I’ll have a coffee mocha with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.

*****

My Kindle Books! https://authorcentral.amazon.com/gp/books

*4 Spooky Short Stories
*A Thorn of the Crown
*Paper Cuts
*Timothy Holbrook and the Zombie Curse
*Tomorrow Will Take Care of Itself

Copyright 2011 Spencer Schankel. All Rights reserved.