March 14th, 2012The Death of Bookstoresby Abigail C. Reimel
Nook. Kindle. E-reader. These electronic devices go by many names, but they all serve the same purpose: to take yet another piece of this beautiful world and turn it into an electronic. Do not get me wrong, this article does not intend to condemn all electronics—or even to say that these e-readers do not have any positive aspects—for all things can be used for good or evil, depending on how they are handled. Nevertheless, the increasing popularity of these gadgets signifies the modern world’s readiness to turn charming pastimes into electronic applications.
The best illustration of this is the way Nook slowly took over the Barnes and Noble bookstores. It started with a side display at the front. Then, a little counter was installed where an employee was always happy to help the old-timers figure out how to use these new digital devices. The counter was the first thing customers saw when they walked in the door. And then, the horrid white counter turned into what it is now: a huge circle in the middle of the store, taking up prime floor space and replacing another handful of bookshelves. This new Nook center looks like Verizon Wireless, with all of the different Nooks displayed on tables like cell phones so that people can play with them. There are comfy chairs and digital screens showing all the amazing things Nook has to offer. This new addition leaves me wondering what Barnes and Noble is today; when in my local store, it is hard to tell. It is a miniature Hallmark to the left, a café/magazine stand to the right, a children’s educational section in the back, and a modernized electronic store in the middle. Not to mention the Toys-R-Us shelves scattered throughout, laden with board games, puzzles, and LEGO sets. Instead of comprising the majority of the store, bookshelves are stuck wherever there is extra space.
Though this description may be old news to the majority of Americans and hence seem pointless, I cannot help but feel a need to warn readers of the literary crisis this country is undergoing. E-readers have become oversized iPhones lacking only the ability to call people. Owners of an e-reader can access the internet, play games, browse magazines, watch exercise videos, and read books on these nifty devices that are quickly replacing libraries and printed material.
Parents buy them for their children, hoping to encourage reading by making it available on a device that looks like their video games. But, these devices make it even harder to monitor a child’s activities. When the parent notices his child using his Nook excessively, he smiles to himself, happy to have finally found a way to convince his son to read. He cannot tell that his son is actually playing Angry Birds or surfing the web. And, if the child actually decides to read, he has any book of any genre available to him within seconds. For an avid reader anxious to get his hands on more classic literature, this is wonderful. But, for a curious pre-teen wanting to get his hands on some adult fiction, this is dangerous.
In a world where kids spend more and more time in front of a digital screen, whether they’re watching television, texting, playing video games, updating Facebook, or typing a school report, they do not need another toy or electronic, they need something concrete, something three-dimensional, something that does not require batteries or cords. The romantic experience of going to the bookstore, finding a beautiful copy of a book, feeling and enjoying the texture, watching the way it slowly changes as it absorbs the wear and tear of being carried around and broken open countless times, that feeling of satisfaction as the last page is turned and the book closed, and the joy of seeing it at home on a shelf—no longer strange and new, but now loved and worn. The simple thrill of reading, the lovely, unique identity of each novel and volume, is something many young people will never understand or appreciate.
Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, and maybe my poetic heart holds sentiments that are no longer shared. But, for now one will find me alongside Jo March as she makes “a bee-line to the well-laden shelves, which were the joy of her heart and the comfort of her life,” reveling in the innocent joy that fills my heart as I curl up with a cup of tea and dog-eared paperback.1
And, no matter how popular these e-readers become, I am content to stay this way.
1 Louisa May Alcott, Louis May Alcott: Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys (New York: Library of America, 2005), 895.