On the disappearance of books and bookstores

The American bookstore chain, Borders, has apparently decided not to try to restructure its debt and will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When I was in Chicago last week, the Borders store on Michigan Avenue had gone dark. On the outside of the building you could see the outline and shadows of the letters where its name used to be. Sad. And perhaps a symbol of things to come.

In the not-to-distant future, we may live in a world where all books are electronic, bought online, and read on e-readers. But is the technology gain enough to justify the loss of so many other things?

How will we know what to read? How we will hear about new books? Will we only know about the ones that benefit from massive amounts of PR and advertising? Will technology mean the end to browsing?

One of the great pleasures in life for bookish people  is visiting a bookstore and just browsing the shelves and tables to see what’s available.  Attracted by the title or cover art, you pick up a book, hold it in your hands, turn it over, flip through the pages, open it to page one and read a paragraph or two. You think about it for a moment or two. Maybe you set it down and move on. But you keep thinking about it, and return for it. Or maybe you know instantly it’s a keeper. My bookshelves are groaning with books I’ve acquired that way: Script & Scribble – The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, Molson, The Birth of a Business Empire and Dr. Johnston’s Doorknob, to name just a few. I probably never would have heard of those books had I not just spotted them.

With online browsing you have to have some idea what you’re looking for. You can’t just wander around looking at everything and nothing in particular. Online, I feel I’m missing something whereas when everything on offer is all laid out in front of me, I can see exactly what there is. (I feel the same way, too, about reading newspapers online versus having the pages spread out on the table in front of me.)

Browsing may not be the only thing to disappear. What about cover art? Does an electronic book need a cover?

And at mystery conventions, our gift bags are stuffed with books. I guess that’ll be a thing of the past, too.

Stacks of books at Malice Domestic to be stuffed into convention bags

And what about the fun — for both author and reader — of signed books? In the e-book world, what can an author sign?

At book signing, Sleuth of Baker Street, with Percy, companion of store owner Marian Misters

It may be that once the entire book industry has been revolutionized and digitized until books and bookstores are gone, people will realize too late all that has been lost.

What would you miss most about a world without books?


8 thoughts on “On the disappearance of books and bookstores

  1. I would be so upset to have a world without books and bookstores. I go to book stores all the time, and I agree with you, seeing them there makes me want to read them. Some I buy and some I check out of my library. I am not entralled with the electronic age. I know that it’s nice to have the internet and the convenience of looking at items online, but without a bookstore. I have a Borders in a neighboring suburb of Chicago, and since I am off work tomorrow, had planned to go there and to Barnes and Noble too. I just like to browse. I would miss not feeling the books in my hand and the smell of paper. I also like the cover art. I think in advancing, we are going to a place that we might not all like. As an aside, I am a teacher, and the science department at my school is going to e-books. They will look at their textbooks online. I don’t want that to happen with my department. I am an English teacher.

  2. I hope it doesn’t happen. Loaning books to friends, donating books to libraries, buying and giving away extra copies of books you love – we will have to replace these habits with other much less personal ones. Books would be missed.

  3. Good post Elizabeth. I am somewhat hopeful that Independent bookstores might be able to survive if they continue to offer author events that people want to attend. I’ve heard of the new model of store where people browse, and then directly access their electronic device to buy what they like, I believe Google is teaming up with some independents on this. That sounds like a promising idea. As for the big chains – really who cares if they survive. I have all the candles I need, thanks.

  4. I would miss the ‘feel’ of the book, there is something about holding a book (especially hardcover) that just seems right.

    I have friends with different types of e-readers but for me, I LOVE turning the paper page!

  5. Elizabeth, yes they are changing, I have cell phone, laptop, gps; but I don’t ever want to not be able to get a “book” – they are so comforting to me

    hope all is well


  6. I made the switch to the new Kobo touch a few weeks ago. It was really difficult for me to switch from paper to an e-reader but I had no choice – no space in small apartments. Unfortunately, in Toronto the houses and apartments are being built smaller and smaller and are increasingly more expensive. I miss the smell of books and the tactile experience but I do love the convenience of the e-reader.

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