Drones and Bookstores

A bookstore is a nice thing in a neighborhood. Not just because you wouldn't mind if your daughter worked there, or your brother. It would be good for the community, too. They could help people find a book.
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I've been thinking about that 60 Minutes story, about Amazon's delivery drones, on and off all week. I feel like there was a time -- before Lara Logan started believing Baron Münchhausen tales about Benghazi -- when 60 Minutes didn't just broadcast everything anyone told them. But maybe I live in an idealized past.

I've also been thinking about bookstores, on and off, all week. I've been mailing friends copies of a book I worked on called Downton Tabby. (Do you like cats? Do you like Downton Abbey? Well then, like the say about Sharknado, "Enough Said!") And I've been thinking about how much things have changed for bookstores since I worked in a couple, a pretty long time ago. Back when 60 Minutes wasn't deliberately silly until the end part with Andy Rooney.

I liked working in bookstores a lot. (Okay, it had its ups and down. My second day at one, I had to sit in the stock room and tear books in half, and tear the covers off to return them to the publishers. One of the books was by a sports writer I'd met and admired. Another time, at Shakespeare & Co. in New York, I let Adolph Green use the employee washroom, which was against they rules, but come on.)

Could a drone do that?

Okay, probably. I don't know.

I suppose, if you gave it a little metal claw it could open the door to the employee washroom. But then, wouldn't it also be programmed with a directive to not let customers use it? And some kind of override if the customer wrote Wonderful Town?

Maybe it's a stupid argument.

But yesterday morning I got this email:

Dear Booklover, (Bookstore X) is looking for new owners. We are hoping that there is someone in (Town X) who would bring new energy, new vision, and local involvement to our beloved independent bookstore.

There is much community support for the store and our landlord is interested in keeping the bookstore in its current location. The store needs local attention and personal care. It is ready for fresh eyes and engaged new owners. This is an opportunity to take over and expand a great independent bookstore, which serves a wonderful community, and provide for its continued and future success. X has a great reputation, exceptional stock, experienced staff, and is a great store. We are selling the systems, inventory, fixtures, computer system, and the lease is transferable...

And that got me down. And not just because Bookstore X was part of a tiny chain. I was sad when Borders closed, too. I was sad when they remodeled the mall and the B. Dalton vanished, and B. Dalton was awful.

It got me down because working in a bookstore was a pretty nice job, and the people who work in bookstores tend to be pretty nice people -- in my experience -- or at least as nice as farmers, autoworkers and investment bankers, whose jobs are protected by patriotic fiat forever and ever.

And a bookstore is a nice thing in a neighborhood. Not just because you wouldn't mind if your daughter worked there, or your brother. It would be good for the community, too. They could help people find a book.

I know that's not an argument for a bailout. It's just true.

And I want to make it clear, I don't think that's Amazon's fault. Things just changed.

I'm not going to pretend I don't love buying books on line. I do. And you do, too. I love my Amazon Prime, even though the name sounds like a lesbian Decepticon.

I get books a lot of different ways. I download them in my iPad, and I order them online and make the UPS guy haul them to my door. I go to big chain bookstores with coffee shops and metastasizing Lego departments. I go to specialty bookstores for mysteries and comics. Used bookstores, college bookstores, church basement rummage sales and Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble and Powell's and Project Gutenberg Australia, but don't tell anyone I told you. (Do they have any laws down there at all?) I check out the titles on the books that are just props in furniture stores.

But I don't think I'll ever need a book delivered by drone.

If there's no way to get to a bookstore, and the internet is down, and I have to read something in the next 30 minutes or I'll die, I'll try to read The Sound and the Fury.

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