Saturday, March 19, 2011

Goodbye to Bookstores? Not Yet!

I have a short feature essay in the Oregonian for Sunday, March 13. It deals with the rise of the e-book and the importance, as I see it, of standing up for community and media plurality by supporting bookstores and libraries.

Permit no farewell to the Age of the Bookstore! Clang in my brain goes the thought, prompted by news of Borders, bookselling behemoth, declaring bankruptcy and shuttering stores by a third. Even Borders! Then locally comes word that Powell’s must prune personnel—and in southeast Portland the bright rooms of Looking Glass Books, 38-year cultural institution, are to be stripped and darkened. Outside a banner reads: for lease. One February morning I stand before it, morosely wishful. Had I the bucks and business acumen, I’d charge in and make a quixotic offer myself. To the staff I’d say, “Stay! We’ll hold this line together!”
Instead, clueless with a balance book and already mortgaged to my eyebrows, I shuffle inside to loiter amid liquidation signs, to suck in lovely ink-and-paper aromas while fondling volumes in farewell, and to eavesdrop on the regrets of other patrons. “We’ve loved coming here,” the owner is told. “How we’ll miss it!” “Sorry to see you go!”
Note to self: business acumen was never lacking here. This store’s got its clientele. No, the problem cited here and at Powell’s—and even at Borders HQ—is the immaterial imp known as, yes, the e-book.
Can this be? While one dawdled innocently in the ever-bright chambers of the Internet, flashed-at by ads, teased by Twitter, chloroformed by Facebook, something sinister happened to one’s world. The physical bookstore—actual space-consuming locus of tangible, shelvable books (and ideally of a community’s unique intellectual life)—came under assault from a fusillade of pixels. Pixels!
 Read the rest here.