Ten years from now will our children or grandchildren even know what a bookstore was? I live on Long Island, and we no longer have a major chain bookstore within ten miles of our home. I'm talking about Long Island, a highly populated are, not somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, we still have some great libraries and a wonderful independent bookstore the next town over, but the large chain stores are gone and both libraries and indies are struggling. With the demise of Borders and the closing of our local Barnes & Noble superstore, chances are that my grandchildren will never enter a bookstore. How sad is this?
Sure they can go to the local library and speak with an amazing librarian who really loves books. Or they can even go and buy books from a supermarket or at one of the big box stores like Wal-Mart or Target. They certainly can go online, order from a handful of online retailers and even get the books delivered the next day... possibly by a little drone in the not too distant future.
In all likelihood, once they are too old for picture books or to be read to, my grandchildren will end up buying their books on an e-reader or tablet. Having the ability to buy a book instantly and from an infinite selection is something we didn't even dream about only a few years back. To see reviews online from other readers before you purchase the book is a great tool. To have a recommendation engine that knows what you might like -- which companies have spent the equivalent of some small country's gross national product developing -- is an amazing programming feat.
But what about that experience of going into an old bookstore for the first time? You would walk through the entrance, maybe the bells on the back of the door would ring. You'd immediately be mesmerized by the sheer volume of books, the smell from the leather hardcover bindings and the ink on the paper. The shelves on the wall would be fully loaded to the ceiling with books that you couldn't possibly reach. You could pass the whole day wandering around and looking at the different categories of books, sometimes not even knowing what the subject meant. You could take a book off the shelf, sit cross-legged on the wooden floor and turn the pages of the book, just looking at the pictures. What was more fun than running around the rows of books on shelves and hiding from your parent,s or peeking through the shelves to spy on them, or knocking a book off the shelf in front of them from the other side?
Maybe it's because I recently turned 60 or because my background was in printing, but I'm feeling nostalgic for those bookstores that are vanishing. I know there's evidence that independent bookstores are making a comeback and I'm perfectly content going into a superstore or perusing the racks of books at the mass merchandisers. But you'll never be able to replace that bookstore experience or the knowledge that comes from the owner's love of books.
I'm taking my grandchildren to the bookstore as soon as I can or to the next best thing: the local library.
Follow up: I gave this post to my 35-year-old daughter to read and she emailed me the next morning to say..."Dad, I've never been to a bookstore like you're describing. I've only seen something like this in the movie You've Got Mail".
Apparently I have to take her along with my granddaughter and me on our visit!