Today I was a witness to a sad thing: the closing of Borders in Merrillville, IN. With the lackluster economy and the popularity of ebooks and the kindle on the rise, bookstores - even the big chains - are finding it harder to stay in business. Already I've witnessed several local, independent bookstores fall by the wayside; Barnes & Noble closed its doors a few weeks ago; and now this: Borders is closing too. The good news? There is another Borders nearby (the only bookstore besides the Christian one left in town), but how long before this one closes too?
There's a lot to say about the economic situation in the US but that's a different post. This one is more concerned with the ereading and its effect on paper books.
One of the things I've always loved about reading is not the words (though, of course, they are a rather large part of the experience - one might argue 99.9% of it, still...), but the weight of it in your hands, the smell of its pages as you flip through them, the glossy or nonglossy cover. The cover art can tell you so much about the contents inside, or it can make what awaits within its bindings more mysterious. I don't have a kindle so I cannot speak to the experience of reading from it directly but I do not believe that it can be as wonderful or as immersive as having the book - all of that paper and glue - in your hands.
Yet I know that, when the time comes (read: when I have money) I too will purchase a kindle or an ereader or some such electronic device to read books with. It isn't that I'm abased to reading electronically - hell, I love online magazines, fiction and nonfiction, and I regularly submit stories to them. There are many reasons the kindle is useful; for one, it will make those harder to find books (i.e. books not sold in most stores unless you happen to have a totally awesome indie bookstore nearby and the owner knows her shit) easier to find, assuming they are available for ereading. Whether or not these writers sell any more on the kindle than they would have in paperback depends on the marketing campaign by themselves and their publishers, but the opportunity is greater because, instead of searching through the shelves where the book is not going to be anyway or having to wait several days as the book is shipped, a reader can search through online sources and download with the click of a button. Ebooks are cheaper, too, so the potential of greater readership because of the inexpensiveness of books is higher. It's ecologically aware. And for those of us with bad eyesight, you can manipulate the font size of a book.
Still, what I am afraid of is a world wherein the paperback has become a collectible item like vinyl records. I admit it is sort of fun to walk into a record store and find something like Blue Monk Time or Silver Apple on vinyl, knowing you've found something somewhat rare but can you imagine how easily pretentious that can get? (I already feel kind of pretentious for not holding out on itunes and the ipod, for god's sake!)
Anyway, this post was supposed to be a plea to keep reading books - real books, trees be damned, prices be damned, larger font sizes be damned! Once, fans went to records store and bought Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in mono and, if you were an aficiando, in stereo and there was something magical in this experience, in taking that record home and putting it on your player and listening to it. The same goes for books: is it not exhilarating to walk into a bookstore and peruse the shelves, pick out something you might not have picked out had you not gone in, the weight of it in your hands, daring you to read it?