Death of a Salesman's Store
I admit, I had a bit of a moment when I walked into Borders' liquidation sale last night. They sold the store to a liquidator, who put up all the standard, garish signs -- 70% OFF!!! GOING OUT OF BUSINES!!! EVERYTHING MUST GO!!! The reason I think so may people are mourning the loss of bookstores is because bookstores are supposed to be a refuge from the shouting and arm waving of our daily lives.
Supposed to be, but haven't been for a long time.
The shelves were picked over, but even if Albert Brooks' biting dystopia wasn't there, the Paula Deen cookbooks, the Sarah Palin tell-alls, the 'how to get rich in 10 easy steps,' the Middle-earth For Dummies… these books were here before, and while you can try to blame my Kindle for the loss of bookstores, I think you should start with the publishing business itself.
It's not that the category killer, big-box, book store killed books. To the contrary, they brought books to the masses like Starbucks brought espresso. They turned books into something palatable by grinding them up with sweeteners and air and creating Frappiccino-esque publishing lines for the practically illiterate.
There are more books published today than ever before. Like that black mold you get on the pages of your favorite classic when you've left it alone in the basement, books are spreading everywhere. And the definition of 'book' keeps changing. I don't just mean ebooks, I mean things that are basically hardback magazines prominently on sale for $39.95 at the front of the store, or collections of Roger Sterling's best lines from a TV show sold as his 'memoirs.'
Then there's the old proverb that says A book unopened is but a block of paper. Bookstores have been brickyards of moldering blocks of paper for a long time. That smell of a bookstore is more a smell of dust mites eating into paper that hasn't seen the light of day.
So, while Amazon is to books what iTunes is to music, more books are opened, and more books are read. I don't have to dig through stacks of Dr. Phil or Kate Gosselin to find something that interests me. Even if what interests me is Anthony Bourdain's new 'I eat more interesting things in more exotic places than you'll ever come close to' book.
I don't have to even pay some printer for the honor of reading Mark Twain -- all the out-of-copyright books I ever wanted to find are on Project Gutenberg. True, I have found a few copyright books floating on the Internet like MP3s -- e-readers may well do to the publishing industry what MP3s did to the recording industry.
And so what? So, some very powerful, very rich publishing houses won't dictate what we should read. I won't have to go to a brightly lit, noisy box store that's 95% crap to find out that the book I want isn't in stock… or to a dimly lit, cluttered dusty mom-and-pop to get the same answer. I can find my path through a universe of books, and have them delivered to my e-reader, or mailed to my doorstep.