It’s been my contention for several years that the large, stand-alone, brick-and-mortar bookstores, as well as those that lease space in major malls and strip-malls, will be forced out of existence. And I’m of the opinion that as copying technology becomes more efficient (read “faster”), less expensive (an Espresso Book Machine approaches six figures), and more user friendly (I’m told this is not a slam dunk, as it takes a few tries to get it right when printing a “personal” work), book-printing kiosks will spring up everywhere. My prediction is that the B&N/Starbucks model will be reversed, in that Starbucks will be the anchor for the book kiosks, and folks will have the current bestsellers printed before they can slurp down a latte.
I’m rehashing this because I want to make clear that I don’t predict the elimination of the small, independent bookstore; that wonderful institution in which I’m going to guess many who read my detritus routinely laze away an hour or two whenever possible. In addition to offering used books at ridiculously low prices, it’s in these stores that I’ve been able to purchase long out of print books by Harry Crews and Upton Sinclair and discovered great finds in original covers by Herman Melville (BILLY BUDD) and Agatha Christie (THE SECRET ADVERSARY), as well as a first edition of BURR (which a “friend” borrowed for two years, and I finally had to follow him home from a tavern one evening to get it back).
The small, independent bookstore is a fixture I never want to see die. This establishment with a bin of books out front with signs ranging form “fifty cents each” to “take one leave one.” Upon entering, we’re always greeted by a grotesquely overfed cat or a hound of noble breed that wouldn’t move no matter the strength of what’s attempting to incommode the beast (should it be necessary to reach the bookshelf it’s plopped in front of). Add to this the indescribable but unmistakable smell of book “mustiness” from pages being kept intact as if protected by this mysterious aroma, which I like refer to as the “scent of knowledge.” I view small, independent bookstores the same as patina on a ship’s brass bell or the aging of the frame surrounding a portrait of the matriarch of a founding family. The faint cracking of the wood is like an age line on a beautiful woman, making her more stunning than at any other point in her life (think Annette Benning and Diane Keaton). Maybe that symbolism will motivate some folks to venture into that old bookstore which s passed all the time on the way to the diner. And if it does I’ve achieved my purpose.
Still belaboring why the printed book matters, I required many years before I became comfortable with e-books, especially with editing material sent to me digitally. However, many who edit, agent, or publish today continue to demand printed drafts only. While I might have acquiesced (the best word choice I can make for my relenting and accepting e-material, ha ha), I want a hard copy in my library, no different from the professor whose office I’d walk into in college and see a wall of books behind her or his desk. I’m hardly a professor of anything, but I’m proud that I can display the shelves overflowing with the books I’ve read which have formed my opinions and given me the confidence to offer advice to others. I don’t think it would make the same impression if a client should visit my home and find me holding up an e-reader and proudly proclaiming, “Everything I discuss is in here.”
I find the force of the literal printed word undeniable, and this is why I’ve walked into small, independent bookstores and bought a book I already own and then placed it in the fifty-cent bin on the sidewalk outside the store. I believe that those of us who love writing have a responsibility to do in our small ways what James Patterson is doing in a major way. If nothing else, buy a couple of the fifty-cent books and then put them back later or give them to a friend. Either way, we are helping that bookstore owner pay the rent–and I’m of the opinion we should do whatever we can to see that it remains current.