Sorry Bookstores, It was True Love while it Lasted

Time waits for no one, as an old song goes.  When I was a kid I used to marvel at talking to adults who told me about growing up without television.  That just boggled my mind.  And my grandmother, who was born in 1881, would tell me about life before the automobile, airplane, radio, Polio vaccine, refrigerator, and indoor plumbing.  I just could not fathom such living.

It never occurred to me then that I would live long to hear young people extol technology they couldn’t live without, or I’d have to face big transformations in my life.  Personal computers, the internet, ebooks, GPS, cell phones, VHS, CD and DVD players, Facebook, texting, Twitter are inventions that change our society at an unrelenting pace.

Two of my favorite pastimes growing up were shopping for records and books.  I loved record and bookstores.  Whenever I’d visit a new city I’d seek out its best bookstores and music shops.  I really miss flipping through bins of LPs two or three times a week.  CDs were an exciting invention, but their tiny size ruined the love of the album cover.  Now even CDs are disappearing and I quit shopping at music stores years ago.  I got used to it.  Time rolls on.

My greatest identity in life is as a bookworm, and sadly bookstores are failing all around me.  Sales of hardbacks and paperbacks are way down from one year ago.  Yesterday, the local paper said my favorite bookstore is likely to go under unless the landlord makes major concessions to a liquidator that bought it.  And that’s partly my fault.  I’m reading and buying more books than ever, but I get them from Audible.com or Amazon.com, or used from ABEBooks.com (all three owned by Amazon).  For every ten books I read, nine I listen to, and one I read.  And that one I read is mainly in paper form now, but my Kindle will probably supplant that.  Time marches on.

Read “What Is a Book? The Definition Continues to Blue” for one of many ways in how publishing is evolving.  I get the feeling I’m living in times like when books went from scribe produced scrolls to Guttenberg printed volumes.  I’ve been messing around with ebook readers since the 1998 Rocket ebook.  Visionaries back then predicted a quick transition to ebooks, so I’ve sort of been expecting the change.  But when it was announced recently that hardback sales were down 43% from a year ago, and paperbacks down 41.5%, I was shocked it was really happening.  Kindles, Nooks and iPads are the future of books. Oh, I don’t think they will disappear, people still ride horses and buy LPs, but time is relentless, and change comes whether we want it or not.

I wonder if books will become collector items now?  But I’ve changed too, and I’d like to get rid of my book collection.  If I retire and start moving around the weight of my collection will be a heavy burden.  Ditto for my CDs.  Digital is just too damn convenient to ignore.  I loved bookstores, but I actually made more bookworm friends online than I ever did at a store.

And there are unimagined kinds of changes too.  Who could have predicted that a whole generation would grow up stealing their music, books and video?  They think everything should be free.   Did communism win after all?  If someone had told me as a teenager that bookstores and record stores would disappear and everything I wanted could be had for free on little gadgets I would have imagined a science fictional dystopian future.  Nor could I have pictured a future where kids wouldn’t sit around and listen to records together, but instead choose to live in their own little iPod worlds.

Time will continue to march relentlessly forward regardless of my wishes.  On one hand I want to feel wimpy and cry over the bookstores, but on the other hand I want to say “Fuck you time, bring it on, I can take whatever comes.”  If the bookstores close I won’t read any less.  I’m sure magazines and newspapers will be reborn as beautiful swans on future tablet computers.  And I’m sure super multimedia books will dazzle us and we’ll think of hardbacks as quaint as parchment.

I do miss the record store, but I don’t regret they are gone.  I’m listening to far more music than ever with my subscription to Rhapsody.  Instead of owning 1,500 albums, I have access to millions.  The internet is better than any newspaper or magazine that’s ever published.

It’s like when I was a kid talking to old people – I pitied them for having to grow up in a world without TV.   Well, I’m not going to feel self-pity because time bulldozed over my nostalgic habits.  Sorry bookstores, it was nice while it lasted.  I expect someday to talk to children and tell them how I used to read by holding words printed on paper and their little minds will boggle at the thought of such primitive living.

NOTE:  I sat down here to write a cry in my beer post lamenting that I might be losing my favorite bookstore Davis-Kidd.  I truly love bookstores, but as I wrote and rewrote I realized time has already changed me and I was just feeling nostalgia.  Don’t get me wrong, I expect bookstores to be around for years to come, but their days are numbered.  Time changes everything, and time does not stop.  I hate that so much in my life is no more or has changed beyond recognition, and it’s okay to feel a twinge of weepiness for the old days now and again, but I also know it would be unhealthy to cling to the past.

JWH – 4/23/11

7 thoughts on “Sorry Bookstores, It was True Love while it Lasted”

  1. Great post, Jim, especially because you apparently sat down to write a different post entirely, but writing it caused you to think things through.

    I’m from a small town, and my early book purchases came from catalogs through our school system. (I can’t remember what that company was called, now.) So maybe that’s why I don’t regret bookstores as much. I just didn’t grow up with them.

    Well, I do miss the cheap used bookstores here in town. Yes, I can buy anything I want from AbeBooks, but not at those old rock-bottom prices. Besides, in used bookstores, I’d buy anything that looked even slightly interesting, which definitely broadened my horizons.

    But all in all, I think I’m better off now. Well, the world changes and we must change with it (or become bitter old men, complaining about the good ol’ days).

  2. Like WCG I didn’t grow up using bookstores (and not even music stores that much).

    We were library people. The bookmobile would drive up to its spot about a mile from our house and we would hike it up there to check out for free any book we wanted to read.

    I love that books are coming online, I love that I can search multiple libraries and request a book to be sent to my local library for me to pick up. I love being able to search the collective wisdom on the internet from my living room couch.

    Never go back, always march forward. Change is life!

    But, you are right, it is fun to reminisce. And it is important to let the next generations know what you and other family members lived and did.

    PS @ WCG was it something like National Scholastic that you ordered books from?

    1. I think they were just called Scholastic Books, but I’m not sure. I loved when the teacher would hand out those order forms and I’d spend hours planning what I’d buy. I never could afford more than three or four books at a time, so the decision was hard. I remember getting several Jules Verne books from Scholastic, and I really loved Mysterious Island.

      I too grew up with libraries. And I noticed the other night when I was reading about where to retire that sometimes they’d have photographs of the town library. Being near a nice library when I retire will be important. I think as I get old I’m going to return to my youthful ways of going to the library a lot.

  3. It’s so ironic that you wrote this post today. I was just sitting down to write a post about how I cleaned up at a thrift store today I got 13 books, 7 hardcovers, 4 first editions, all for less than $20. If this is the dwindling of printed books, I’m gonna love being here to see it and cleaning up in the process!

  4. Speaking as an already-retired person, I can say that the storage issue is both real and very big. When I sold my (large) house I had to get rid of 2/3 of my books and all of my journals. Many went to family and friends, but others just went. It was very sad.

    Just this winter I spent a few months in a sunnier climate, and I was really happy that I got a Kindle before the trip. I came to really dislike having to buy physical books, even from library book sales and used bookstores. I didn’t have to worry about getting the e-books back home! My wife hasn’t been converted to e-books yet, and even with a lot of recycling to the local bookstores we had a big pile to drag home.

    No, the Kindle isn’t ideal, and I’d really rather own the books outright, but it’s a good solution to a real problem.

  5. If you’re going to get rid of your books make sure to let us know on your blog. I know I would be interested in buying as many hardback sci-fi books as possible.

    Thanks!

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