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Friday, January 6, 2012

"There is no friend as loyal as a book"

Ernest Hemingway


I'm fortunate enough to have a library at home, and as I write this I'm admiring my books. They're really quite beautiful, the spines in lovely colors accented by fonts that mirror content: stark and bold for mystery and thriller; playful for comic and light; serious for the classics. I have an entire wall of Stephen King, a wall at which I marvel on quiet nights that any one person could have so many words in his head. Under the book jackets are bindings with soft leather and colorful threads. When I hold a book close I can smell the ink, a throwback I imagine to my days as a newspaper reporter when I would walk into my office and breathe in the back room scents, when I could hear the presses running and know that soon folded paper with my name on it would be tossed on doorsteps. There is nothing quite like seeing one's own name in print.

I don't yet own a Kindle, but appreciate its novelty, its lightness of weight, its ability to call forth with a few keystrokes all manner of literature. In the last two years I've purchased four as Christmas gifts, and yes: I get it. The Kindle (or Nook or whatever) is a "cool thing." This onslaught of technology is wonderful, although not unlike the advent of the car, which put the horse folks out of business, it has its downside. Progress talkers say such advancement is important, and that indeed, some businesses that once were thriving should become obsolete. Being fazed out is part of the deal. I get that that, too. We must march on, though I do wonder how many jobs the Internet and its spawn have winked out. Everybody likes to blame the President -- whether of the blue or red variety -- for job loss. Here in my library, surrounded by hefty work by King and Grisham and Dickens and Shakespeare, I wonder if the web is more responsible for unemployment than Mr. Obama, or Mr. Bush, or whomever might be next.

Some terrible news has emerged this week in my little corner of the world. The First Edition, a bookstore in Norwich, New York that's been in business since the early 1980s, is closing in the next month. I could not be more disappointed. A bookstore closing its doors, thanks to Kindle and Nook and Amazon and the rest, is a tragedy for me. I wish I had a million dollars I didn't need (well, I wish I had a million dollars period). I'd give the money to The First Edition and say "Go forth. We need you." Sadly, this will not happen. The First Edition will close, the only bookstore (or so I've heard) in my county.

When I lived in Arkansas there was a bookstore in our smallish town. Its proprietor created in her store not just a place to shop, but a home away from home. There was often chili bubbling on top of the wood stove out back, and rockers for sitting, and toys for playing. Authors were frequent visitors -- and still are in fact, as the Arkansas bookstore, for the moment, continues on. Still today the public is invited in for signings and conversation. The store is a place where readers and writers gather to meet, talk, drink coffee, eat chili, and share a love of books. Some of my fondest memories of my time in Arkansas were spent in that bookstore because it wasn't just somewhere to buy books. It was a place of learning and people and grand times. A bookstore is a place of wonder where stories -- and those who write them -- come to life.

They say we never know what we have until it's gone, and I'm as guilty as the rest. I'm lazy and order books online because I can type in John Irving, while I'm in my bathrobe, and have a book the next day. I have not, I'm sorry to say, frequented The First Edition much. Now it's too late. Sooner or later the bookstore as we know it will go the way of the horse-drawn carriage, the live meeting, the movie theater. Instead we sit at home in our slippers and wait for Netflix to arrive, for the Amazon package, for the webcast. We order stories on a skinny computerized tablet and are immediately gratified. I appreciate the Internet, I do. If it were not for the Internet you would not be reading this now. Still, what are we losing in this tap-tapping in a home office, in this solitude? I find it odd that while we're all more connected than ever through computers and social networks, we've never in our history been more disconnected. I don't know who's reading this now. I may know what country you're from, but I'll never know your name. The Internet, somehow, makes me feel lonely. Not just alone, but lonely. And the Kindle with its pixels on a tiny screen is stealing away our closeness as humans, our one-on-one with bookstores and authors and beautiful books with their smells and threads and jackets. In the end I'm just a gal in a horse-drawn carriage, I guess, watching Chevys and Fords flash by.

As I sit here looking at my books, objects that seem to be turning obsolete along with the stores that sell them, a thought drifts in: a hundred years from now when I'm gone, after my old-fashioned carriage has carted me and my nostalgic ideas off to the great beyond, will people not yet born stand in my empty library and wonder what all these shelves were for?

3 comments:

Pixelated said...

Horses smell better than books. Books are a fire hazard. Shelves are for food and ammo.

Kathleen Yasas said...

Shelves are for food and ammo. Good grief.

Jeff Beck said...

This is not a comment about your blog, but rather a celebrity birthday today (Jan 9) - Jimmy Page is 68. You should have posted a Yardbirds link : )

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum