The indie bookstore I pass every day

In the strip center where I work, an independent bookstore recently opened. It makes me feel bad.

I’d like to support indie booksellers — owning your own bookstore sounds like a dream job — but they don’t carry anything I’m interested in. The front window has had a perpetual Twilight Saga display since they opened. I guess I could ask them to order me a book, but there’s no way they can offer the speed and price that Amazon does for book deliveries.

Like any good bookworm, I love the feel and smell of bound paper, but I don’t have room for the books I already own. Now I wait for an eBook version to appear of any book I want to read, and thanks to Project Gutenberg I have access to thousands of public domain classics. As our media have increasingly moved towards digital distribution, I have experienced extended spells of schadenfruede watching the record industry self-destruct.

Thinking about a future without bookstores just makes me sad. I guess sacrifices will have to be made as our culture makes the slow, painful transition to digital distribution. Still, I’m going to miss browsing the stacks of books at a well-stocked used bookstore much more than I’ve ever missed being able to go to a record store.

13 thoughts on “The indie bookstore I pass every day

  1. I’m not sure I would read fiction anymore if I had to do it through some technological abortion like the Kindle. I pray the traditional bookstore doesn’t go the way of the dodo.

  2. Well, you should at least go in and browse. You never know what you might find. The Twilight Saga presentation in the window is just their way of letting people know they carry popular titles.


  3. I gotta say, I mourn record stores way more than indie book stores. Like you said, there’s no way they can offer the speed and price that Amazon does. Record stores, though… Amazon didn’t even have vinyl until a short time ago, and even now, their selection is pitiful. Atomic Records in Milwaukee closed after nearly twenty five years of business, and I miss it way more that Broad Vocabulary, the feminist bookstore up the street from me (yes, it is real, and it’s going under apparently).

  4. @shakewell – I find that the joy of discovery I feel with music is enhanced by the internet. Between Last.FM / Pandora, and recommendations that come my way via social media such as Twitter, I am constantly hearing about great music. As a young person, I often mail ordered records and waited an interminable period of time before finding out if what I bought was any good. Now as soon as I hear about a band or musician, I can go to YouTube or seeqpod or the like and hear them immediately.

    I much prefer this to the old days of trying to figure which bands in the zine Maxiumrocknroll wore the right clothes in order to get me to part with my cash. (Might seem superficial, but in punk and hardcore when I was growing up you could accurately figure out a band’s sound based on what they wore.)

  5. Yeah, I’m confident that dead tree media will always have their place. There’s an irreplaceable appeal to holding printed text in your hands and turning the pages as you go.

  6. I worked in a used bookstore in a building that was once a glove factory in downtown Detroit for about three years. I’ll be heartbroken the day that I’ll be unable to experience the atmosphere of old bookstores. I will miss the smell of the books, the dust filtering
    the sunlight.

    While I’d rather patronize an independent bookstore for new books, it’s really the used stuff that poses problems. You simply can’t replace being physically in the store, browsing. What else is on the shelf near the book I was looking for? I really only search for classic lit and medieval history texts, and while I can get books in those categories online (though you can often find better deals if you take the time in a store), I never want to lose the ability to stumble upon something totally random. I once caught a glimpse of a book with a nice green cloth binding. “Mosses with a Hand-lens (Third Edition with Hepatics)” by A. J. Grout, published in 1924. It was once owned by the Cranbrook Institute of Science, given to them in May of 1951 by one Cecil Billington (says the librarian’s clean handwriting), and has really nice engravings. This is not something I would ever have looked for, and certainly no recommendation software would have suggested to me. But I bought it. And would I have ever read, without the garish pink binding catching my eye, the insane “Ruhknama: Reflections on the Spiritual Values of the Turkmen”? It’s by Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy (self-styled) the Great, a man who had giant golden statues built of himself, one of which is set upon a giant tripod-like structure called the Neutrality Arch that perpetually rotates so it always faces the sun.

  7. I hate reading digitally, it can be uncomfortable and strains my eyes. Nothing compares to being able to kick back and read something you can hold in your hand, bound and written on paper and allowing you to turn the page.

    Aibara said it best. An old bookstore, especially one that specializes in used books, is kind of magical. The best sort is the one with very high shelves very close together, often cluttered with random stacks of books in every available space. Just going along and looking at all the ancient texts and stumbling upon something you’d have never found otherwise is wonderful.

  8. Books will forever have the advantage that they already are a self contained portable (and relatively inexpensive) item. Games and records rely upon some other piece of technology to function which makes the retail experience fairly restrictive in comparison. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with books in 30 years though.

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