Bookstore closings reflect emphasis on tweets over Twain

April 4, 2011

Sad signs like this are appearing all over the country.

The world of books and literature is changing and we’ll be the worse for it, I think.

A lot of ingredients in this mix. It’s complicated. Let me wander aimlessly around this territory for a bit.

The internet. I love the web. I do. But its increasingly democratic nature panders to the lowest common denominator. Awful writing passing as appropriate and publishable. Young people are unable to recognize a grammatical sentence because they don’t see correct grammar in the blogs and emails they read.

(Not 2 mentn textg 4 hrs ea dy.}

Do kids sit down and read Dickens any more? It’s definitely tweets over Twain, I fear. Lazy minds without attention spans find the classics too boring.

The written word no longer holds value. Good writers are seriously underpaid because terrible writers will write for peanuts. Or free. But of course, the general public fails to recognize good writing, anyway.

Graphic novels are all the rage. As for what that means in the greater sense of literature, well, I can’t even think about it.

Bookstores. I love them. I can wander among the stacks for hours, looking at old and new literature. Opening books when the cover intrigues me. Pausing to read cover notes and blurbs. I love the ability to flip through a book, scanning a passage here and there, as I decide if I want it. I love picking books for gifts. And opening them when they are given to me.

In 10 years, will kids know what a hard-covered book is, I wonder? Do they know now?

I stood commiserating with the manager and staff at a closing Borders the other night. At the end of our conversation, the manager picked up and silently waved a small, hardback called SCREW CALM, GET ANGRY.

E-readers. What have we lost in our quest for convenience? I read a lot and I love my Kindle for travel. Especially because I travel with tons of books and airlines now charge for baggage. But no question: the Kindle’s an inferior experience.

I’d rather feel the weight and heft of a book in my hands. I’d rather turn pages with my fingers. I like to underline, highlight and make margin notes. To think while I read. To ponder. Then, days, weeks, months or even years later, I like to page back and look at my notes. To consider what I was thinking when I made them. Ebooks don’t do that so well. Nor do they do photos, graphs or illustrations well.

Courses in how to publish your own ebook abound. No demanding, pesky editor to satisfy with proper grammar, narrative arc and mechanics. Can you type? You, too, can be an author!

Well, you might be an author, but you’ll never be a writer.

Amazon. It’s brilliant, really, this ability to sit at home and browse an online bookstore, then buy books for less money than we’d pay at a bricks and mortar bookstore. It’s efficient. It’s cost-effective. You can even page through a little bit, on line.

And yet, something valuable is lost without the bookstore experience. And now, bookstores are lost. At least some of them. It’s ironic that independents were badly hurt by the big brick & mortar chains. But now, independents may be the only physical bookstores left standing.

Libraries. Where to start? The musty smell of thousands of books, the repository of our society’s history. And the ghostly auras of thousands of patrons who have walked the aisles over scores of years. I adore libraries and if we couldn’t afford to fund them it would break my heart.

And yet, what do I see at my library? The majority of patrons are sitting at computer work stations surfing the internet. Today I saw one guy playing solitaire. Far fewer, if any, are browsing the stacks with me. I love that libraries provide internet access to those who don’t have it. But I’d sure like to see more people interested in the books.

What does it all mean? We Boomers grew up with and have been adapting to technology and the changes it’s brought to our lives. We’re not our parents’ generation; some of us even invented this stuff.

And yet, we’re beginning to resist a bit. Things are moving far too quickly in ways that don’t bode well for a literate society.

Or, maybe a literate society will look different in generations to come. Maybe I just can’t see it from my vantage point.

It takes a very long time, but big picture, I know the pendulum swings both ways. That some equilibrium will come at some point.

Maybe.

Still, as a reader, a writer, a book lover, and as someone who spent a good bit of her career in technology, I don’t like what I see.

What about you? How do you feel about these changes? I’d love to know…don’t hesitate to comment below!

4 comments on “Bookstore closings reflect emphasis on tweets over Twain
  1. I totally agree! It’s so sad to see Borders closing. We just moved to Fremont (well a couple weeks ago, but it’s been slow going), and I also stood commiserating with one of the Borders workers, who told me that means there will be zero bookstores in fremont. Ugh. Where have I moved?

  2. Ah. NONE??? Hey, I haven’t forgotten you. I’ll text you some dates. xo

  3. Thank you for writing. I came across your blog by searching “zen middle age”, though it was “… tweets over Twain” which motivated me to respond. The rate of technological change is incredible. New technologies seem to be replacing old with frightening regularity. I fear not only the loss of books, but lossless music (not just vinyl), and more generally the commodification of anything which can be digitalized. Humanity as we knew it has changed and will continue to change. However, I have resolved that to bemoan the demise of the world as we knew is not adaptive. There is an analog to middle age; we must be patient and allow the awkwardness to subside. Books, music and professionalism will survive the attack of the digits; we simply need to remain in awe of the continued evolution.

  4. Richard, thanks for your cogent comment. I think your aim is a worthy one and you raise a good point about allowing awkwardness to subside. Something I think I’ll write about soon. I hope you’ll keep checking back and comment on anything you think needs a different view.

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