Author James Patterson announced this week that he will give $1,000,000 in grant money to independent bookstores all over the country, which is music to this former bookseller’s ears. More than 50 stores in the United States will start receiving grants this week. Patterson said:
“I just want to get people more aware and involved in what’s going on here, which is that, with the advent of e-books, we either have a great opportunity or a great problem. Our bookstores in America are at risk. Publishing and publishers as we’ve known them are at stake. To some extent the future of American literature is at stake.”
I read a lot of news every day, and this is one of the best stories I have come across in ages. I appreciate that I can buy affordable reading materials online. I am a frequent Internet shopping consumer. I do buy books online.
But still, to me, there is just nothing like a bookstore, or a real, actual book. I have friends who are e-reader devotees, who will actually not read a book on paper anymore, and I admit that this makes me sad. I stare at my iPhone multiple hours a day, but when I want to read a book, I want it to be on paper. The visceral experience of reading a book is meaningful to me. When I hit the couch last week to read The Fault in Our Stars? It was the actual book. I liked looking at the cover. I liked the weight of it in my hands, and most of all, I liked that I could disconnect from electronic distractions for a couple of hours and read.
I also love bookstores. Many of my trips across the country have included stops at independent bookstores. It’s a small way to feel like I’m contributing to a part of the local economy that I care about, and these stores tend to have the best collections of local literature. I go to the Garden District Book Shop whenever I’m in New Orleans. I spent half of a day at the Strand in NYC. I went out of my way to find Parnassus Books when I went to Nashville, because my favorite contemporary author, Ann Patchett, owns it. When I lived in Dayton, Ohio, I was a regular at Books & Co., an independent bookstore that regularly drew bestselling authors. I was new in town, and finding the bookstore meant I had a home away from home.
Here at home, I have a treasure in Politics and Prose, in D.C., and Kramerbooks, too. There is a sad lack of independent options in the suburbs where I am, and now that Borders has closed, Barnes & Noble is pretty much the only big chain left. I worked at both of those large chains in Ohio because those were my options for employment when I was looking.
Patterson said that his main concern is for children.
“I’m rich; I don’t need to sell more books. But I do think it’s essential for kids to read more broadly. And people just need to go into bookstores more. It’s not top of mind as much as it used to be.”
It might not be top of mind, but I have often thought that the struggles the larger stores are having and the increase in focus on e-readers could be a benefit for independent booksellers. As the book buying and selling experience becomes more impersonal on a larger, digital scale, won’t people still seek out a physical space devoted to reading beyond the public library? Where they can not just borrow a book, but make a special purchase and take it home or give it as a gift?
Maybe I just refuse to think of a world where there are no bookstores, where children don’t know what it’s like to spend a day browsing the fiction shelves or wandering around the bargain aisles. Even as I understand the progression of technology and the appeal of lower online prices, I still can’t reject the need for a space devoted to the sale of one of the most important things that exists in the world. Books — real books, on paper — matter. We have stores for everything else still, it seems, so why not them?
My hope is that efforts like Patterson’s will multiply. Maybe it’s a sign that there is a will for bookstores to survive. And to this end, maybe I need to go into the city to go to the independent stores more often — when the mood strikes me for something new to read and I want to be surprised. It’s not much — I’m just one person — but it’s probably the best thing I, or anyone else who doesn’t want to see bookstores go away, can do.
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