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. 

July 2, 2012

The Golden Apples of the Sun

The Golden Apples of the Sun is a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury.  My only exposure to Bradbury's writing prior to this was years ago when I read Fahrenheit 451.  I expected all of these stories to be science fiction, but they weren't- only about half of them were. 

I wanted to read The Golden Apples of the Sun for one reason and one reason only:  it contains the story "A Sound of Thunder."  I'm fairly certain that most people are familiar with this story, even if they don't know its name.  It is often referenced when it comes to time travel.  This is the story in which a man goes back in time, steps on a butterfly, and changes the future.  Knowing what happened did not make this story any less outstanding.  This was definitely the best in the book.  Bradbury uses vivid descriptions to paint exact pictures of the characters and their actions in his stories.  Here is the appearance of the object of the time travellers' desire:

"The jungle was wide and full of twitterings, rustlings, murmurs, and sighs.
Suddenly it all ceased, as if someone had shut a door.
A sound of thunder.
Out of the mist, one hundred yards away, came Tyrannosaurus rex...
It came on great oiled, resilient, striding legs.  It towered thirty feet above half of the trees, a great evil god, folding its delicate watchmaker's claws close to its oily reptilian chest.  Each lower leg was a piston, a thousand pounds of white bone, sunk in thick ropes of muscle, sheathed over in a gleam of pebbled skin like the mail of a terrible warrior.  Each thigh was a ton of meat, ivory, and steel mesh.  And from the great breathing cage of the upper body those two delicate arms dangled out front, arms with hands which might pick up and examine men like toys...Its mouth gaped, exposing a fence of teeth like daggers.  Its eyes rolled, ostrich eggs, empty of all expression save hunger...its taloned feet clawing damp earth, leaving prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight.  It ran with a gliding ballet step, far too poised and balanced for its ten tons."

The reader feels as if they are there looking at this dinosaur themselves.  There is a sense of the enormity and power of the animal and of the terror it inspires.  The story also has one of those perfect last sentences that makes one think, wow, this is fantastic. 

The other standout story from the collection was "The Fog Horn."  It was the first story in the book.  Bradbury captures the despair and isolation of a lonely creature drawn to the surface from the depths of the sea by a lighthouse fog horn.  The rest of the stories ranged from good to okay.  I liked the science fiction stories better than the others.
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