Thursday, August 4, 2011

holding touching flicking smelling seeing

I just wandered around our local Borders store - closing down on 15 August - selecting a pile of books because everything was fifty percent off. In some ways, this is like a dream come true, but in other ways it felt horrible. Maybe this is silly, to be sad about the death of one cog in a big chain, when really we should be lamenting the loss of independent bookshops with personality. But really at the moment it seems like bookshops are all in the fight against the internet together.

Someone turned to me as we stared at the row of Henry Jameses, and said: "In some ways I feel like this is my fault. I've bought an e-reader last year and haven't visited a bookshop since. I mean, what's the point? Even with fifty percent off these books are still cheaper as e-books."

Since I finished my Masters, I've been working a couple of part-time jobs almost entirely from home. My jobs consist of writing emails and writing a manual, for the most part. In some ways it's been great having the flexibility to work from home, when I want. But I have now reached the point at which I realise that I could stay inside all day if I wanted to. I actually have to decide to leave the house. Almost everything I need is available on the internet or by phone. It's almost Orwellian.

If e-books become the norm, is this just one more step in the process towards becoming permanent stay-at-homers? Are they just another excuse to avoid actually having to talk to people, or deal with people, whenever we want to get more reading matter - whether it's at a library, a big chain, a classy independent bookstore, or a dingy little secondhand bookstore?

And if e-books take over the market entirely, which I have no doubt they will, what will happen to the bookshop? What will happen to publishing companies, and opportunities for authors, and the standard of literature? Will bestsellers reign supreme and the only chance an author has to be recognised is to wallow among the millions on the Kindle store?

On the upside, it might be more difficult to ban books if they are available freely on the internet. And I went through a phase of declaring that perhaps the e-reader was a good idea (it is), and perhaps it was worth having, right after I had to lug all my books with me when I moved house. Too heavy!

But now I'm starting to wonder if the price we pay is not too high. I'm probably just being reactionary, but I LIKE visiting bookstores. They have an environment you can find in very few places. I LIKE collecting books with colourful spines and arranging them thematically on my bookshelf. And no doubt tomorrow's generations won't know what they're missing and will be perfectly happy with their e-readers, but I will know, and I'll be sad. So from now on it's paper and ink for me.

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