I have nothing against technology. I love my iPhone. I appreciate getting more mileage from my car. I love being able to research obscure information in a matter of minutes (Did you know “actress who wore fruit on her head” does, in fact, turn up Carmen Miranda?). But technology has destroyed something that has given me, and no doubt many of you, countless hours of pleasure: The bookstore.
This is not just because I’m an author and bookstores are my stage, but I’m a reader, a lover of browsing, a toucher of paper covers. Bookstores are to me what candy stores are to sweettooths (though I’m one of those, too). And I have to admit to suffering a level of heartbreak with the closing of so many.
Of course, Borders, a place where I have done many readings and signings over the years, is no more. We can criticize them for not getting on board with the eReader like Barnes and Noble and Amazon did. We can say they had become more like gift shops and cafes rather than purveyors of literature. But really, they closed because we are no longer buying books in traditional ways.
Last week, I walked into Atlantic Books in Cape May, NJ, a shop where I have sated many beach reading desires over the years and where I have held my own book signings. I was assaulted by a STORE CLOSING banner. Like a vulture that comes upon that unexpected carcass, I went in and gathered up a pile of reads at a going-out-of-business discount. I may have been happy at my acquisition but I’ve been grieving over the knowledge that it won’t be there the next time I visit that town. In fact, there will be NO bookstores at the shore since Atlantic is shutting all of them– unless there’s some tiny, independent that is still surviving that I don’t know about. And if you do, PLEASE tell me.
How did we let this happen? After all, books have been around for 500 years!
I am reminded of that scene in the 1960 movie “Time Machine” which is based on the H.G. Wells novel. The main character “George,” played by Rod Taylor, flies on his time machine into the future to a world of apparent paradise, where everyone is healthy, youthful and serene. (The morlocks living underground are another story). George, desperately wanting to understand how their “future” developed, asks if they’ve written anything down, you know, like in books. “Books? What are they?” Then one clear-eyed young man has a vague memory. “Books!” And he brings George to what must have once been a library. The young man pulls back a dusty curtain and an ecstatic George reaches for one leather-bound book. It disintegrates in his hand.
The shame of all of this is that this scene is no longer farfetched. Books in our future will be as unfamiliar to our youth as phonographs and the Pony Express are to us today.
I’m trying, really trying, to understand that this is technology, and the price we pay for a better, safer and longer life is often at the expense of relinquishing something precious. But I can still mourn. I think you might even understand.
If not, then just read my lips…