On March 16th, the Vancouver Sun ran a story with this headline: Book Warehouse to close after 32 years. It almost made me cry. Another independent book store gone – just like Duthie’s which closed after more than 50 years of service.
There are two things that make me sad here:
- The demise of the Independent Book Store.
While Amazon and Chapters can offer us amazing deals on practically any book we could possibly want, no one at either of these establishments knows my name. Oh sure, I get emails from Chapters all the time, addressed to me personally with book recommendations made just for me. But these make me laugh every time because when I do buy a book from Chapters, it’s usually a gift, often for a child, so the book recommendations that are designed for me are based on what I bought, not on what I actually read. On the other end of that email is a calculating computer, not a nice, kind, book-loving human being like Rob at Brown’s Books in Burnaby or David, the Book Man (who’s now got two stores in Chilliwack and Abbotsford!) or Lando at House of James in Abbotsford. Doesn’t this matter? Shouldn’t this matter? Clearly I am a thrift-lover and a deal-seeker but what happens to us as human beings when it becomes all about the price and we leave relationship behind?
- The demise of the book itself.
You and I both know that the other thing driving the close of independent book stores is the death of the paper book. I know that I’m going to sound hopelessly old-school here, but there it is: I LOVE BOOKS. Tangible, paper books, with beautiful cover art and a photo of the author on the dust cover. I love the smell of books. I love the look of my bookshelves… row upon row of beautiful spines that beckon to me with stories of love, loss, adventure, laughter, fantasy, teaching, philosophy, encouragement, hope. While I realize that these exact same stories are available on an E-Reader, I’m sorry, but an E-Reader doesn’t smell the same. It doesn’t feel the same. How does one curl up with a screen? And am I ever going to lend my E-Reader to someone? Probably not, but I lend my books out all the time.
The one thing that E-Readers have over paper books is that E-Readers make travelling easier. But honestly, what did we do before now? We just travelled with books, for Pete’s sake. OR, we found an independent book seller or used book store in the place where we’ve travelled to and bought another one! I just can’t see myself lying on a beach with a screen.
And don’t give me the green argument. I’m not convinced that E-Readers are greener than paper books. Many, many books are printed on recycled paper, or paper that is not from old growth forests. A book can be recycled at the end of its shelf life (a life which I’m guessing is decades longer than an E-Reader’s life is going to be.) What will happen to your E-Reader when it dies? And the world wide web – which I use every day, and houses this very blog – is not as green as we’d all like it to be either. What do you think it takes to power the massive computers that make this web exist? In many places, it’s coal and why is that? Because it’s cheap. So we’re back to dollar vs relationship, this time relationship with the earth.
So there’s my long rant. I look forward to your replies because I’m sure there are others who agree with me passionately and others who disagree with me passionately – let the great debate begin!