A recent piece in the Boston Globe lamented the closing of the huge Borders Books in that city's downtown. The point of the article was that losing the store was more than just the decline of one of those big-box booksellers, but it was an end of book culture.
A lot of shoppers would go to Borders on reconnaissance missions. They'd browse, see what they liked, then order the book online or download it to an electronic reader.
The bookstore felt so used.
The response to the article was remarkable. Poet X.J. Kennedy sent in a letter to the editor and suggested that bookstores charge people for browsing.
Interesting concept. Even though Borders is a big-box joint, I have known some intelligent employees there who knew their stuff, even if many of their colleagues looked at their job as if they were slinging hash brown ovals at McDonald's.Inkwood Books in Tampa and Haslam's Book Store in St. Petersburg. The Bay Area is fortunate to have these independent bookstores that do much to define "book culture" in their cities.
For all of the braying and lamenting about Borders, it seems to me the greater matter of concern ought to be the future of Inkwood and Haslam's, not just as businesses, but as centers for the community's intellectual life.at length before.
We miss a lot by crawling off to our hives to order books and not browse bookstores or visit those other magnificent institutions, our public libraries.
So get off your ass and get to a bookstore or library today.
And if you need more motivation, here is an appeal from Inkwood Books:
"As we approach Inkwood’s 20th anniversary, we have much to be grateful for and many reasons to celebrate: a perfect combination of wonderful books and extraordinary customers, and the opportunity to know and to serve, and in some small ways, to shape our community. But survival doesn't mean we are healthy or thriving.
"We knew the big box model was not sustainable, but many great locally owned independents were sacrificed on the way to the current circumstance leaving many communities without a bookstore. Those that have survived - including Inkwood - are faced with a perfect storm of challenges: the proliferation of other outlets, lack of sales tax fairness, ebook revolution, and competing distractions for shrinking leisure time contribute to a diminishing number of bookstore customers.
"We love our work - talking with readers about books; serving schools and libraries and nonprofits; helping individuals choose for themselves, for their book group, for their children and grandchildren, for other family and friends; and bringing memorable author events to the community. While we hear from customers, new and old, how much they love our bookstore, our selection, and our recommendations, we have lost many customers to the unsustainable price cutting and overbuilding, as well as to the recession. Fifteen years ago, as we watched the closing of many valued and irreplaceable local businesses, we wrote to our customers: "If you're not here this year, we won't be here next year." While we are proud of our accomplishments and believe we have enriched our community, that statement is just as true today."
Inkwood suggested that we pass along their message, so cut and paste it in emails to friends, post it on your Facebook wall, print it out and put it in bathroom stalls. And take pleasure in having something to read wherever you go.