Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bye Bye Bookstores

As I recently reopened the file containing THE definitive Millennial novel (known to many of you as Vignettes, or simply Jane), which I am co-authoring with one of my best friends, I couldn’t help but mourn the loss of our third writing partner, Borders bookstore. As disillusioned post-grads, my writing partner and I would steal away from our parents’ homes and head over to our writer’s studio at least, twice, maybe three times a week.

There, our bank-tellering addled minds were soothed by the gentle hum of World Music, light jazz and the occasional Seal album. We would warm our bellies with Snickerdoodle cookies and Caramel Apple Cider (Starbucks had nothing on ‘em). Then, we would write and talk and write and talk and write. For hours. Often, we would take breaks to peruse the books and draw some inspiration. And even though we always left well after closing time, the employees at the Borders store in Rockford never kicked us out.

I can’t say the same for Barnes and Noble. The handful of times we attempted to work there, the pastries were cold, drinks overpriced, coffeehouse versions of pop classics made my ears bleed and the staff couldn’t wait to get us out the door. “B&N” just lacked that certain everything.

Tragically, after a prolonged bankruptcy process, one of those booksellers disappeared off the face of the earth last week. To my dismay it was Borders, the retailer that placed all its faith in paper books, instead of the digital kind.

Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, stays afloat by pushing the Nook, an electronic device that makes it possible to read with minimal effort while lounging on the beach, standing on the train and laying in bed. That’s all well and good, but as a wannabe author, I have always dreamt of seeing my name printed on a book cover. And of standing at a lectern, book in palm, reading to an audience, slowly turning the pages to build up anticipation. From early childhood, I was a book nerd. The more engaged I become with a text, the more wrapped up I get in the character, the more greedily I turn the pages. I’d always wished the same from my readers, that they would be able to devour my pages.

But those days are gone. I recently read Super Sad True Love Story, a dystopian novel (you know I love those) about the downfall of hyper-consumer civilization. In Gary Shteyngart’s satirical farce, set in the not-so-far in the future, books are referred to as artifacts. The premise is that the digital generation has no need for them. They communicate purely through devices and screens (called apparati), which severely hinders their ability to interact face-to-face, demolishes attention spans and causes a plague of illiteracy. Shteyngart’s anti-hero is the only poor sap who still believes in the power of words, the last reader left in the world.

The fall of the bookstore signifies loss to me. Recently, I spent a leisurely day at the beach with some friends. I had a novel with me, which bore a scandalous name: Eating Chinese Food Naked. (The title was far more tililating than the book was.) Someone asked me how I heard of it. I found her question confusing. Reviews and recommendations are always appreciated but, what I enjoy is the process of finding a book, wandering the aisles in search of that one book that speaks to me.
Sure, it’s nifty to have entire texts at your disposal with just the mere push of a button. But I, for one, will miss the promise of exploration, discovery and fantasy dead-tree books carried with them.


jaimelesmots said...

Oh darling! I do feel your pain. I too, enjoy the feel of a real book and the "hunt". However, I love my Nook. I must say I was very surprised how much I love it. I still have not given up perusing book stores and garage sales for the perfect book. And my library is my best friend. I alternate between paper and digital quite often. I am terribly saddened that Borders has been pushed out of the book store scene. We need more variety! Honestly, we need more of those cute hole-in-the-wall and smells-like-musty-paper book stores that have the most random books ever around.

I hope to read you book one day. Paperback (or the fancy hard cover) one day :-)

divadiv said...

Thanks boo, I'll send you the advance copy. :)