Back to the Future

Elizabeth Bluemle - June 19, 2013

A longtime Burlington business, a wonderful independent movie rental store boasting around 30,000 eclectic, interesting titles, closed recently. It was a loss, and the other night, a friend was bemoaning its demise. “It was a community gathering place,” Christopher said. “It was a landmark. We’ve shopped there since it actually was down on the waterfront, and then after its move.” He loved the sense of community the video store offered. “You’d always run into someone there,” he said. Now his family doesn’t watch nearly as many movies together. They miss the staff recommendations, the serendipity of finding something unexpected on the shelf, the broad, curated collection. The loss of the indie movie rental store is personal for Christopher and his family.
It all sounded so familiar. Those things apply, of course, to the pleasures of bookstores and the many kinds of value and experiences they provide. At our own store, especially at this tourist-filled time of year, we hear frequent lamentations of bookshops lost and sorely missed in communities all over the country. I like to think the pendulum will swing back toward the bricks-and-mortar store (smartly updated and thoughtfully positioned) as gadget-hype settles down, solar flares remind us of the fallibility of electronics, and people realize how much they miss the smell and feel and satisfaction of looking at shelves of books they’ve loved. (Remember how people were tossing vinyl records when CDs and then digital tracks came in? And now, well, vinyl is back, baby!) Judging from the number of young people we see who have e-readers but continue to savor real physical books, I am very hopeful. For example:
A 14-year-old boy was browsing the fantasy section. He was one of those great kids who is initially a little shy but lights up when talking about books. An avid reader, he had a gift card burning a hole in his pocket. He’d already found a couple of books: a thick Stephen King paperback and a copy of Prodigy, the sequel to Marie Lu’s Legacy. We struck up a conversation about Legacy, which we’d both enjoyed, and I showed him a few other books, including The 5th Wave. He was so luminously happy with his thick stack of books, and while he waited patiently for his relatives to finish their own shopping, I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.
“Do you have an e-reader?” I asked him.
“I have a Nook and an iPad, if that’s what you mean,” he said. I loved the twinkle in this kid’s eye.
“So here you are with a stack of books. What is it about actual books you like, since you aren’t doing all your reading electronically?”
“For one thing, you don’t have to stop reading while the plane takes off,” he said. (I am in full agreement with him there.)
Then he picked up Prodigy and riffled the pages back and forth. “And it’s just easier to do this,” he said. “You know?” (I do.)
Then he picked up the stack, all three books different thicknesses and trim sizes, with distinct covers and textures, and sort of bounced them up and down in his hands, feeling the weight. “And you don’t get this.”
I knew exactly what he meant. That boy is my future, and if you have a bricks-and-mortar store with pulp and paper books, he is yours, too.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Future

  1. Randy Cecil

    Hi Elizabeth Bluemle– Are you familiar with Record Store Day? Record companies and artists put out a fantastic bunch of stuff, only on vinyl, and in very limited editions– classic reissues, unexpected and never before heard collaborations, new novelty stuff like picture discs, etc. All beautifully produced, all available only on Record Store Day, and only in independent record stores.
    People wait for hours in lines that stretch around the block to get there hands on these things. The line usually starts forming the night before.
    I have thought before, and this article reminds me again, that you would probably the perfect person to create Bookstore Day! I am picturing a beautiful produced, limited edition reissue of One Monster After Another by Mercer Mayer in all its hugely oversized glory. I would wait in a very long line (and pay a lot of money) to have that!

  2. Sarah Sullivan

    I loved reading this, Elizabeth. You just brightened my day! Hate to imagine a world where I couldn’t check out what books other people are reading in waiting rooms, on planes, on the beach or in a cafe. Sadly, that happens too much already. And nothing beats browsing and picking out a new book to read in a lovely bookshop! Pure pleasure.

  3. Tom

    Besides which, I have the attention span of a fruit fly and frequently find myself paging back through what I’ve already read to clarify a character or situation I’ve forgotten details about. Much more difficult to do with an e-reader.

  4. Kathy Quimby

    My college age students say the same thing. I’m finding that young people are selective about what books they buy as e-books or read on-line and what books they purchase in paper. Digital books are for titles they don’t care as much about (or that cost significantly less–these are college students). But if they think they’ll return to a book, they often want it as bound pages.


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