Bookstores—Do they deserve extinction?

Bookstores—Do they deserve extinction?

bookstores-dinos-blogAre local bookstores today's literary dinosaurs? A lot of people think so...and think Amazon has all but ensured their extinction

But here's the question: if indie bookstores go the way of dinosaurs, what—if anything—will we have lost? This is the question that's raised a few hackles in the press and blogosphere.

Author Richard Russo unwittingly kicked off a kerfluffle by penning a NY Times op-ed piece. He, along with some big-ticket authors (Stephen King, Ann Patchett, and Anita Shreve and others), bemoaned the fate of brick & mortar stores. For Patchett bookstores represent "a critical part of our culture." Same with Tom Perrotta, who called them part of a "vital, real-life literary culture.” What's controversial about that?

Well, hold on: a couple of days later, online Slate magazine's Farhad Manjoo weighed in, calling Russo & company's argument "bogus." Pulling no punches, here's what he said:


Russo hangs his tirade on some of the least efficient, least user-friendly, and most mistakenly mythologized local establishments you can find: independent bookstores. Russo and his novelist friends take for granted that sustaining these cultish, moldering institutions is the only way to foster a “real-life literary culture,” as writer Tom Perrotta puts it.

Ouch! That hurts. Catch the words "least user-friendly" and "cultish, moldering institutions"—bookstores, for heaven's sake! But Manjoo makes an interesting case: because of online's low prices, ease of ordering, and instant access through digital readers, people are actually reading MORE. That's real-life literary culture, he says.

As far as preserving local community culture, here's what Manjoo has to say about that:


If you’re spending extra on books at your local indie, you’ve got less money to spend on everything else—including on authentically local cultural experiences...[your] local theater company...city’s museum...locally crafted furniture.... Each of these is a cultural experience that’s created in your community. Buying Steve Jobs at a store down the street isn’t.

My smart husband Pete says that Manjoo's own argument is bogus. It's not buying books that provides a cultural experience. Russo and others are referring to the store itself—a place to gather, real people to talk to, books to touch, chairs to sit on, a friendly storefront that graces a local street.

The issue won't go away; it resurfaced the other day on NPR (6 months after Russo's NY Times piece). The announcer interviewed Manjoo and a local bookstore owner, who sadly couldn't seem to address any of Manjoo's points. All of which allows to ME to pontificate...

Who's right or wrong? It doesn't matter. The fact is that local bookstores are bordering on extinction. It. Will. Happen...at some point. The younger generation was rasied on techno-pablum; they don't get all dewey eyed over books like we do. They get their news online...play games online...connect with friends online...look up words online.... They LIVE online. It's what they've grown up with.

Bye-bye bookstores. Will we miss them? You bet—big time! Will it alter our reading habits or our literary experience? Probably not. Still, it will be a different world, and we'll all have to adjust—I don't think we'll have a choice. Sigh....

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