February 9, 2005

"The End of the World, As We Know It"

Commentary by Cherie Jung

Bearing in mind that I am still suffering mightily from a nasty cold and flu season, that breathing is painful, and that I may be just a tad high on the feeling sorry for myself scale...

Iím suspecting that life as I knew it is over. And let me tell you why.

Nobody cares about books or bookstores anymore. At least not the way they used to.

I remember in the "good old days" my husband and I would make the rounds of our favorite bookstores each week. Not just to buy books, but to meet with the owners, chat, and swap reading suggestions. Donít get me wrong, we did buy lots of books. Most of our "discretionary" spending went to books and movies, and eating out. Ah, those were the carefree days...

We usually maintained a "favorite" bookstore list of about seven shops, plus other favorites that we had discovered during our travels. Of course, any bookstore was a good enough excuse to stop and browse.

Back then, people seemed to love books. I mean really love them. Need them. And wanted to take them home.

Even though our shelves were always crowded and we had boxes and boxes of books in our huge storage unit, I could never leave a bookstore without making a few purchases. I just needed to take some home with me, as if they were orphaned kittens. To give them a better life on my shelves. Or at least a little more life...

And then I began to notice it. Many of you noticed it too. Much has been written of it in other commentaries. Itís been whispered about for years. We knew it was coming but we tried to fool ourselves into thinking it wouldnít happen in our lifetime. Now, even our bookstore friends have succumbed.

Theyíre dead. Dead or as good as.

For many years (over twenty) seven of my friends owned bookstores. And then they began to go out of business. Last year, three more friends, bookstore owners, closed their doors. I have one last friend who is moving her bookstore in the hopes of finding more foot traffic. Near by? All of the used bookstores have closed, except for one. No one even bothers opening new ones anymore. There is a Barnes & Noble which I can get to using public transportation (itís a four-bus round trip) at one mall or a Waldenbooks (a two-bus trip) at another mall. Remember when we tried to blame them for making the small bookstores go away? Oh, and there are plenty of books onlineÖbut I miss the real bookstores. The ones with chairs you can sit in while you browse. (The latest trend in bookstores these days is to remove the chairs so homeless people wonít come in the store and fall asleep in the chairs.)

Oh, I know that times are tough and that bookstores -- especially small independent bookstores -- are closing every day and thereís really nothing we can do about it other than to mourn their loss, but darn it, I do mourn their loss. I even miss the ones that I didnít even know existed because now I have no chance to wander by some day and pop inside to pass a few hours browsing and to perhaps find a few more books to bring home.

But more than that, I miss the light in my friendsí eyes when they chatted away about the latest book they were reading, or dashed to a shelf to retrieve a book they were sure I would like to read. I miss watching them lovingly shelf the new arrivals along side the other titles waiting quietly on the shelf for someone to pick them up, peek inside, read the back cover and maybe, just maybe take them to the front counter and then home to a nice bookshelf or pile of "to read" books near a comfy chair.

The other side of this problem, I suppose, is there are not enough readers. Theyíve all gone away somewhere. Perhaps theyíre busy with their computers or life or something more important (to them) than reading books, but the bottom line is the same. Not enough readers.

As I write this, I just realized. I donít know anyone who reads for pure pleasure anymore. Wait, I know two people. Both are certifiably crazy. Other than that, I know writers who read, and book reviewers who read, but people who just pick up a book and read? Nope. None.

Sigh. Itís a sad day in "Bookville," my friends...

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