July 20, 2012

I don't want bookstores to die

I read a lot.  I read far more books than those I blog about.  I'm the kind of person who reads books more than once.  I know that the wish that bookstores wouldn't die is futile, that most bookstores are gone now, but I wish it anyway.  I could spend hours in a good bookstore.  I used to go to bookstores all the time before they started vanishing.  I like to browse.  I like to discover new authors and new books with which I may not be familiar.  I like to walk among the shelves and pick up a book and flip through it to see if it interests me.  Browsing is a lot harder when you are limited to a computer screen.  What about the helpful booksellers?  I used to be one.  It was great!  Now I'm limited to a computer algorithm suggesting titles I might like?  No, computer.  Just because I like Pride and Prejudice doesn't mean I want to read Fifty Shades of Grey.

The bookstore in which I worked part-time closed.  It was the start of the vast closing of bookstores across the country.  I was left with a choice of Borders or Barnes & Noble.  I liked Borders a lot.  I didn't like Barnes & Noble so much.  The selection in Borders was always good, and the booksellers were friendly and helpful.  B&N was pretty much the opposite.  At this point there are so few booksellers in B&N that you'd be hard pressed to find one to be unhelpful to you, but at that time you could spot one on the floor occasionally.  Of course it was Borders that went under.  

What I really want is a good independent bookstore to open near me.  The greatest bookstore that exists is Harvard Book Store.  This isn't the bookstore of the university.  It's a locally owned, independent bookstore in Harvard Square, Cambridge.  It's enormous!  It has those knowledgeable booksellers I like.  It has a used book section in the basement.  It is everything a bookstore should be.

The closure of Borders and the memory of Harvard Book Store caused me to make another effort at finding a decent independent bookstore.  I should have looked sooner, because I had been missing out!  There was a great used bookstore nearby all along.  Cathy's Half Price Books is pretty fantastic.  I haven't shopped in used bookstores too much before now.  I just didn't come across very many.  Cathy's has a great selection for a used bookstore, and most of the books are far less than half of the cover price.  A good many of them don't even look like they've been read, they are in such perfect condition.

So it looks like if I want to shop in person for books, I'm left with a choice of Cathy's Half Price Books or Barnes & Noble.  I do buy books from Amazon now, too, so I've become part of the problem.  It's what happens when choices are limited.  What does the future hold for used bookstores (and bookstores in general) when more and more books are being read electronically?  None of those will be traded in or sold to places like Cathy's, and you don't need a physical store to download a file.  I'm not interested in e-readers.  I like the feel of a book in my hands.  I prefer reading a page to a screen.  I like to look at my bookshelves and think about the books I've read and maybe decide that my next book will be something I've read before.  I don't want to have to worry that the battery is going to die when I'm ten pages from the end and nowhere near a place to charge it.  I'm okay with being in the minority on this.  I'm not okay with bookstores being a thing of the past. 


  1. I have similar sentiments about book stores, which should come as no great surprise.

    I do like e-readers too, though, and I think they're complimentary to real books. I like having all my Zelazny in one place, but every time I get out my Nook to read something, Lily pops up and grabs it to play Angry Birds.

    I love used book stores. New Hampshire had a bunch of them, including one devoted to just SF and Fantasy.

    As much as I like them, though, I fear we'll see fewer and fewer of them. Stephen King said of one of them in the one Dark Tower book, "This isn't a store; it's a hole you throw money in." I do love them, but I think more and more people are going to just sell books online.

    We do have a great local one, though. They serve light meals and a friend tells me that's where they really make their money. I'm pleased that they still sell the books though.

    "It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me."

  2. Personally, I see them as complimentary. I like e-readers, but I wouldn't want them to supplant real books.


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