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