I opened my weekend NYT (on my tablet) to find two articles of interest: The Dilemna of Being a Cyborg and The Bookstores Last Stand. As a former bookstore owner and manager I immediately saw the link between the two.
This past summer a young mother came into the store toting her young son who, she explained, had been raised on a “Nuk”, and I don’t mean a pacifier. Recently he had fallen in love with certain “content” he had read and he wanted one of “those flippy things.” “A book”, his mom told me helpfully. That is the connection and the point: what we treasure we will always want to hold.
I will not argue that books won’t become outdated and quaint but there will always be a need for them. A need, yes, a need: to hold, to page through, to write in the margins, to spill coffee on, to remember the time you spilled coffee on it, to stick daisies in their pages, to have the dried petals fall out in the middle of a move years from now and stop you in your tracks, look up and remember that daisy. And beyond all this, to read, especially those stories that we really love.
If as Nicholas Carr states in his book The Shallows:What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, the average American spends eight and a half hours per day in front of a screen, does he want to relax at the end of the day reading on another screen? As Mr Carr also points out there are studies that show there is a tactile aspect to learning that may demand that in order to really “make something our own”, as the nuns used to say, we need the rough feel of paper or the mechanics of turning a page.
This was made clear to me when my daughter was in first grade and had been put in a reading program for slow readers. At winter break her teacher told me she wasn’t recommending my daughter continue with “Bucket Brigade” and, even though I worked in a bookstore and really valued reading, I would need to not push her because she might be “one of God’s special children”, (seriously, her exact words). “No pushing”, I thought until the night I found her, late at night, with flashlight, under the covers trying to sound out words. “Special child or not”, I told the teacher when school started, “I want her back in that program”. As luck would have it, there was a new tutor who had sand paper letters my daughter could touch, and finger paints she could use to form letters and something she did with jello. Lo and behold, in two months she was reading at a second grade level…(and graduated from a good college and has a job with health insurance and everything) She needed to feel those symbols before they had any meaning!
And so it goes. When mp3 players killed the CD player what came roaring back but “vinyl”? And did the invention of the coffee vending machine mean the death of coffee shops? Perhaps the model of the big box Barnes and Noble store is not sustainable but I wish you a small independent bookstore attached to each one of those little coffee shops that dot every corner of the map nowadays. So that the huge banner strung across the entrance to BEA, the big blowout for publishers and booksellers, won’t say “WE ARE CONTENT”, as this past year’s did, (and which took me a while to understand…how do they know I am content, I wondered?) but WE ARE BOOKS!